Friday, September 27, 2013
Death Knocks Three Times: Review
I am very pleased to say that Death Knocks Three Times has been my favorite mystery so far by Anthony Gilbert. Gilbert is a pseudonym for Lucy Beatrice Malleson, a very prolific British mystery writer (over 60 novels written under this pseudonym alone--she had several others). Her primary detective is Arthur Crook--a lawyer whose clients are always innocent. Always. Crook is a likable rogue who cheerfully says that he doesn't mind who he sets up as the murderer--provided he can get his client off.
In this outing, he doesn't really have a client--at least not directly related to the crimes in question. He is on his way back to London while traveling on a case when a terrific storm forces him to take shelter with the very unwelcoming Colonel Sherren in Chipping Magna. The colonel is an odd, reclusive man who thinks modern conveniences such as heat and hot water will sap the manliness right out of you. Crook manages to take a liking to the elderly gentleman anyway and they spend a long evening talking.
Crook is back in town just two days before he is called back to Chipping Magna to give evidence at the old boy's inquest. Colonel Sherren had a very strange, Victorian bath with some sort of lid contraption which bashed him over the head on the morning of his weekly bath. There was an unexpected visit from the colonel's nephew, John, and an argument to account for the night before, but the jury brings in death by misadventure. Then Crook learns that Sherren isn't the only member of the family to have met an untimely end.
John's Aunt Isabel had an unfortunate accident with a balcony. Coincidentally, her devoted nephew had just visited the night before and warned her that the balcony's railing looked a bit unsound. Poor Aunt Isabel apparently didn't take the warning to heart and leaned a bit too far. Death by misadventure again. And now John's remaining relative Aunt Clara has been receiving anonymous letters with vague threats, but displaying an uncomfortable knowledge of Clara and Isabel's affairs.
Clara calls upon an old family friend, Frances Pettigrew, for support and advice and John shows up for a surprise visit as well. Clara is also approached by a former suitor of Isabel's with what can only be called blackmail. Soon Arthur Crook is hovering in the neighborhood and manages to be on the spot when Aunt Clara dies of a barbiturate overdose. This time John didn't leave before his loved one passed on--but is he the one responsible for the diminishing numbers of Sherrens? The police are prepared to think so. But what does Arthur Crook think?
This mystery was much faster paced than the previous two Gilbert novels that I've reviewed. The plot moved along at a nice steady clip and there was lots of character interaction. It helped that Crook makes his appearance right from the start. I really enjoy his character and was glad to have him involved beginning on page one. Gilbert's primary downfall is hiding the culprit. I once again spotted the ultimate villain of the piece well before the end, but I missed the how of the crime--making for a very worthwhile read. Three and 3/4 stars.
MG: All those old governesses were. They ruled every one with a rod of iron. I believe Granny had to ask for permission to enter her own nursery. Fancy her still being alive.
JS: Alive and contemplating murder.
MG: If she did, I'm sure she'd pull it off. I'd back her against the entire Home Office.
~Mrs. Garrods; John Sherren (p. 41)
...he found himself badgered by the police asking a lot of damned silly questions and expecting him to give verbatim reports of anything his three companions had said. As if a man of action could be expected to listen seriously to two old women and a chap who wrote novels. (p. 89)
...ain't the villain of the piece. Not the murdering kind. Too much imagination, see? The chaps who commit murder are the ones that don't see beyond the actual crime. ~Arthur Crook (p. 139)