Thursday, March 2, 2017

Death in the Wrong Room: Review

AC: ...here we are with a murder on the premises, and the police, poor fish, barking up the wrong tree.
JA: Fish don't bark up trees.
AC: You'd be surprised what the police can do when they get on the track, even when it's the wrong track.
~Arthur Crook; Joseph Anstruther

Anthony Gilbert is a pseudonym for Lucy Beatrice Malleson. She was a prolific British mystery writer (over 70 novels written under this pseudonym alone--she had several others) whose most famous creation is Arthur G. Crook, lawyer-detective. Her novels are known for skillful plotting, entertaining dialogue and interesting action. Arthur G. Crook is known for the fact that his clients are always innocent. Always.

Death in the Wrong Room (1947) features cold-blooded killing in the midst of post-World War II cut-backs. Years ago Colonel Anstruther's daughter, a beauty in the Botticelli style, had run away, married too-handsome-for-his-own-good ne'er-do-well, and wound up in the gambling life of the French Riviera. While she was away, the Colonel had built The Downs where he and his right-hand man Jock had lived in seclusion. When Rose Anstruther (who has re-taken her maiden name) shows up one fine day with bags and baggage, her father welcomes her home with the admonition that her husband never darken the door. She tells him that won't be difficult--Captain Fleming has taken the coward gambler's way out and shot himself. His name is never mentioned again and they settle down to a quiet life together--expanding the household by one when the Colonel's brother Joseph shows up looking for bed and board. Then the war happens.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the family's reduced circumstances force them to taken in paying guests. The Colonel absolutely insists that the boarders be kept away from the family and the family's area of the large home is made strictly out of bounds. Until Lady Bate and her young niece arrive. Lady Bate is an irascible old woman who has managed to wear out her welcome in hotels and boarding houses throughout the area. From the moment she arrives, she manages to bully the other paying guests, offend the servants, and thoroughly annoy the Anstruthers. 

Lady Bate considers herself above the other paying guests and can't understand why she cannot see the lady of the house and be on an equal footing with her (much more suitable than the loud, talkative Mrs. Hunter and the deaf, eccentric Miss Twiss). One afternoon, when everyone else is out, she steals her chance and finds Rose Anstruther in her sitting room. And, how extraordinary--they've met before. From that moment, Lady Bate manages to wheedle special favors--morning tea in her room, a separate table for her and her niece, and she's working on a sitting room of her own. 

Meanwhile, Caroline meets the personable Roger Carlton and begins to see a glimmer of happiness that brightens her existence as Lady Bate's gofer and dogsbody. But her aunt manages to ruin that as well--monopolizing Roger and, finally, deciding that he could be the son she never had--down to deciding she should change her will in his favor. Then--as in many a detective novel--Lady Bate dies before she can sign the new will. The police immediately fasten on the not-quite-disinherited niece as the obvious suspect. Enter Arthur Crook. 

He'd prided himself that he understood the murderer's mind, now he knew that it is only when he is, in fact, out of his mind that a man is prepared to slay.

Since he takes up Caroline's case, obviously someone else must be guilty and he sets about finding out who and why. Could it be that Uncle Joseph finally decided to indulge in a real-life version of his favorite hobby--murder mysteries? Or was it Miss Twiss--she had been caught with Lady Bate's missing diamond ring. Had she stepped deeper into crime? And what about the hold Lady Bate seemed to have over Rose Anstruther...was that worth murdering for? And did Rose do the deed or did the devoted Jock decide to get rid of the problem. Crook will (quite literally) risk his life to keep his perfect record of innocent clients.... 

Overall, this is another fine outing by Gilbert--not quite the surprise ending that I've experienced in other books, but the story-telling is excellent, the characters are quite distinct and fully fleshed out, and the detective work of Crook is definitely up to standard. My one complaint with Gilbert's books is that she brings Crook in quite late in the game and sometimes this just doesn't work well (The Innocent Bottle is an example), but, here, the chapters introducing the characters and setting the back ground are quite necessary and very interesting so his absence isn't as keenly felt.  Very entertaining. ★★ and a half.

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This fulfills the "Blue Object" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

1 comment:

Clothes In Books said...

I've quite liked the handful of Gilbert books I've read, and this one sounds good. However they often seem to end abruptly, and she's not very good at updating us on the ultimate fate of other characters, and I find that off-putting - it was very marked in a couple of the books I read.