Friday, January 25, 2013

Marriage is Murder: Murder Comes Home (1950), by Anthony Gilbert

The 1950 Anthony Gilbert mystery Murder Comes Home is the best pure detective novel I have read by this author (who actually was a woman, Lucy Beatrice Malleson).  It has the qualities characteristic of Gilbert mysteries--a sprightly writing style and good characterization--plus, less commonly with this author, a murder problem that holds the reader's interest till the very end.

It all starts with a nice young couple being called in by a doctor to witness an old lady's will.  Not long afterward, the nice young husband finds in the newspaper that the old lady was murdered, smothered to death apparently.

Evidence provided by him and his nice young wife leads to the arrest of the old lady's insolvent sister and brother-in-law, both of whom are out-of-work actors. This pair were the beneficiaries of the old lady's new will, which is rather odd, since they had for years been estranged from the old lady, on account of the sister having run off long ago with --gasp!--an actor.

Anthony Gilbert's series detective, Cockney defense attorney Arthur Crook, comes to the defense of the arrested actor couple.  His investigation turns up surprising new leads....

Anthony Gilbert knew London well and her portrayal of the locals--particularly landladies and housekeepers--is first-rate.  Further, the novel was published at the time of the many sudden changes wrought by the aftermath of World War Two and the rise of Labour; and there's a good deal of interesting social observation regarding all this sprinkled throughout the novel.

And there's some pithy writing too:

It was not so much marrying out of her class as marrying out of her own kind.

Mrs. Bennett looked rather startled.  She wasn't used to people quoting the Bible in her own lounge.

It's easy enough to find evidence of Anthony Gilbert's feminism in Murder Comes Home.

With noticeable regularity widows frequently express themselves better off without their blessedly dead husbands, while wives regret the ones they have.

Indeed, there's not one happy marriage in the book that I recall, besides that of the nice young couple (and give them a few years!).

Then there's this:

"Father had the most old-fashioned ideas.  He thought it was beneath his daughters to work in a shop or an office but not beneath them to marry anyone who could provide them with a roof and three meals a day."

This sentiment clearly expresses Gilbert's own life experience.  When her stockbroker father suffered financial reverses in the 1910s and the family's standard of living precipitously declined, Gilbert found that her genteel ladies education failed to provide her with the qualifications she needed to get good work. 

Fortunately with her natural talent and intelligence Gilbert eventually attained success and a steady income as a mystery writer.  Yet she never forgot her troubles earlier in life, which won't surprise the reader of Murder Comes Home.

(Still some more to come on this writer, next week I think! TPT)


  1. Neer at "a hot cup of pleasure" let me know you would be reviewing this book. I enjoyed this post and the one on January 22nd. I have four Anthony Gilbert books (this one and A Case for Mr. Crook, Death in the Blackout, Death Takes a Redhead - all Arther G. Crook mysteries, I think). Especially since you mentioned the time period (around WWII), I will pick one of these to read soon.

    1. Hi, Tracy, I'm glad neer mentioned my blog!

      One thing I like especially about Gilbert is her sense of period detail.

  2. Thanks for a nice review of Gilbert's books, Curt. For one who spends most of his internet-time looking up forgotten writers, though not necessarily reading their books, Lucy Beatrice Malleson seems to have eluded me completely, especially given that she wrote 70 detective and crime novels (as mentioned in your post of January 22). I wonder what prompted the many women authors of the early to mid-20th century to write under pseudonyms. Christie, as we know, had one too — but why?

    1. Prashant, in Gilbert's case, it was the fact that people thought mysteries sold better when published under a man's name! Kind of funny, when you think how we are told today that women dominated the mystery fiction readership in the Golden Age (not true).

      See if you like this one, I did. Gilbert's not always so great from a puzzle standpoint, but I thought this had a nice one.

  3. This book seems really interesting. Currently I am reading Gilbert's Body on the Beam and that too has some fine gems on marriage and married life.

    1. It is indeed, neer. I agree about The Body on the Beam, very interesting social detail. I can send you a scan of the jacket if you plan to review it.

    2. Thanks for the offer. I have sent you a mail.