Riddle of a Lady (1956) by Anthony Gilbert

Today’s read sees a return to Anthony Gilbert, an author I have reviewed a few times already this year. The story opens with a mini history of a legal firm named Greatorex Brothers. The firm’s heads, Charles and Richard, disapprove of their half-brother Henry, feeling he is not serious or knowledgeable enough for the profession. Thankfully they think they’ve solved the problem by shoving him into a separate branch of the firm and for the next twenty or so years things go smoothly. Initially we might feel sympathy for Henry, thinking he has been unfairly judged by his half-brothers. Yet an alternative viewpoint coming from Henry’s nephew Avery, swings our sympathies into reverse, finding that Henry to be a self-centred and lazy man, whose success rests on those around him doing all the work while he exudes bewitching charm. Henry has high hopes of marrying a much younger woman called Beverley Carr. Yet he has one problem, namely a woman named Stella. She has been his mistress for 5 years, though for a while he has kept things going out of politeness. He optimistically thinks she will be happy about ending things. Unsurprisingly she is not. Words are said and even a gun is waved around in a threatening fashion. ‘There they were then, two creatures caught in a trap, and surely, surely one of them must die.’ But which one? More widespread infidelity muddies the waters when a case of murder finally emerges and Arthur Crook is called into sort things out.

Overall Thoughts

One of the things which quite intrigued was that although the author was female, her portrayal of infidelity is far more patriarchal. The suffering wives in the story are doormats who justify not calling out their husband’s bad behaviour or are not seen at all. Those who do suggest a sterner view of such behaviour are shown to be nagging and negatively single women. Whilst other female characters are far more ready to sling mud at the woman in the case than the men. The sexual double standard is definitely here in full swing.

Characterisation is one of Gilbert’s strengths and I enjoyed how she played with your sympathies, especially with Henry. Unlike in Death Takes a Wife (1959), Arthur Crook, one of Gilbert’s serial sleuths, has an important and significant role to play in the story. He is an entertaining presence and I did crack a smile when one of the characters says that Crook ‘looked like an orang-utan in a chocolate suiting.’ Crook seems to have a bold approach to fashion and a larger than life personality. Having read three Crook mysteries now, I have noticed that before Crook actually enters the story Gilbert includes sentences which almost have Crook taking on a Greek chorus like role towards the events preceding his arrival into the plot and this is a feature which I think works really well. On the surface this seems a simplistic mystery but of course Gilbert had me completely fooled when it came to identifying the culprit. So overall an interesting and entertaining story.

Rating: 4.25/5

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt (Silver Card): Damsel in Distress

7 comments

  1. Arthur Crook always reminded me, in some way, of John Dickson Carr’s Sir Henry Merrivale. They’re not exactly identical characters, but they would probably get along like a house fire had their paths ever crossed. Interestingly, Gilbert had reportedly somewhat of a crush on Carr and perhaps this influenced her characterization of Crook. Who knows.

    Anyway, I’ll have to dip back into my modest pile of unread Gilbert’s one of these days.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad you’re still enjoying Gilbert. Characterisation is definitely a strength of hers, though this isn’t one I’ve read. She can be pretty conservative in view at times and then at others more liberal – not easy to pigeonhole.

    Liked by 1 person

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