Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Black Stage: Review

The Black Stage by Anthony Gilbert is another of my vintage mysteries--first published in 1945. Anthony Gilbert is a pseudonym for Lucy Beatrice Malleson, a very prolific British mystery writer (over 70 novels written under this pseudonym alone--she had several others).

In this book Peter and Anne Vereker, two cousins, have returned from the war (WWII) to the family mansion back in Britain.  Peter is hoping to return to the past--where he helped his Aunt Tessa manage the property with a view to inheriting the Manor one day--and Anne is hoping to escape the shadow of hers.  Both their hopes are dashed when they arrive to find their aunt all set to announce her engagement to Lewis Bishop.  Bishop is out to make a place for himself in the sun and to cast all of Tessa's relations and devoted help into the outer darkness.  

Anne knows Bishop (and not under that name) from her war days, but it will cost her everything if she gives him away.  Before she has a chance to decide whether she should tell what she knows, Bishop is shot to death during a family "conference" in the library.  It's a classic scene--heated confrontation, the room suddenly goes dark, a shot rings out, and when the lights come up....Anne is holding the gun.  Aunt Tessa and the police are all set to believe the worst, but Peter calls on Arthur Crook--the rather unorthodox, uncouth barrister who always gets his client off.

That's when things really get interesting.  Another of the household is found hanged in a London hotel--complete with typewritten suicide note claiming responsibility for Bishop's murder.  Again, the police are all set to accept the obvious....until the police surgeon drops a bombshell into the midst of the inquest.  The supposed suicide was dead long before the folks in the neighboring hotel rooms heard him banging away at the typewriter. 

Crook interviews all of the participants in the fatal scene and decides he needs a re-enactment of the shooting to make all things clear--but it looks like he's going to prove not only that Anne Vereker couldn't have done it, but that no one could have.  Never fear--the untidy lawyer has one final trick up his sleeve.

This is rather slow-going at first.  Perhaps this is just Gilbert/Malleson's way--I notice that I made the same observation about The Innocent Bottle when I read it two years ago.  There is plenty of build-up and descriptions of the characters and their interactions all leading up to the murder which takes place about a third of the way in.  Once Crook becomes involved in the case, the book becomes much livelier and far more enjoyable.  I'll echo my previous review again--I think Gilbert/Malleson is much more effective when she's writing about her main character.  And that's a really good thing--the effective writing makes up for the fact that I was able to peg the guilty party straight away.  It was far too much fun watching Crook do his stuff for the lack of surprise to disappoint me.  A nice solid three-star outing.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

Oooh, I love shot in the dark stories. I'm going to have to see if I can find this one.