My last Gilbert was not a great success, but I hoped this one would be different, as when Gilbert is on top form, she really knocks it out of the park. But did she do it this time? […and no don’t just rush down to the rating at the end…]
The seemingly respectable Fred and Bessie Meadows are a married couple who always ensure they take care of themselves first, even if that means someone else has to pay for it, not withstanding their life…
Mr Cobb is their latest employer. His two married daughters are keen for them to be well cared for, though they too keep their eyes on the prize as it were. Most readers will be expecting Cobb to be poorly and frugally cared for at this point, but Bessie is much smarter than that…
When it is Cobb’s time to go, his death lands squarely into the lap of another. But were they responsible or not?
Time for Arthur Crook to do his stuff…
I would describe this book like a firework. The first half of the novel is similar to watching the flame travel along the lighted fuse until it reaches its target. You know what’s coming, but Gilbert builds up the suspense and the sense of waiting for it to happen. The characters are nicely built up and the allusion to King Lear worked a treat, as well as the moral ambiguity around what the Meadows are doing. In this first half you know they’re crooked but there is nothing they’re doing which you can point at and say is wrong.
However this firework of a book, has an underwhelming second half and that is primarily due to the simplicity of the plot. Don’t get me wrong Gilbert tells this familiar tale well, but the pacing and motivation to read suffer, as the reader is able to easily anticipate what is coming. This might be how Gilbert’s later work turned out, as I recall reading another Gilbert mystery from the 50s, which was equally simplistic. This book is a variant of the inverted mystery, though unlike other inverted mysteries, there is not much to the “how they get caught”. There is no proper admissible evidence and it is more a case of waiting to see the suspects make a slip. There is a nice twist at the denouement, but I feel regular mystery fans will find it a well-worn one. It’s a shame as I wonder whether a younger Gilbert might have made more of the plot, especially since one element is a precursor of something I once saw in a Jonathan Creek episode. Oh well perhaps not the world’s best Gilbert mystery, though still better than my last one, Courtier to Death (1936). Thankfully though I have one more Gilbert in my TBR pile and it is heralded as a masterpiece by more than one blogger, so I have high hopes my next Gilbert will be a good one.
Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Number in the title
Calendar of Crime: February (2) Author’s Birth Month