In today’s read things are certainly not going Hatty Savage’s way. Her day starts badly when Richard Sheridan, whose proposal she rejected the night before, is found dead in his bed; from an overdose of barbiturates. Awkwardly for her it also just so happens that the tablets were the ones she gave him. Suffice to say her reputation is somewhat tattered after the inquest and after a week of anonymous letters and phone calls, she goes off to Paris with an aunt. Little does she know that worse is to come, arriving in the form of Marguerite Grey. She first pops up at the inquest, telling all and sundry that Richard was actually going to marry her. This is not particularly believed, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this is the last you’ll see of her. She may have lost her man, but her eyes are still on the prize. Such ambition can only end in death, but once more it seems Hatty is compromisingly implicated. Arthur Crook is brought into the case and the reader can be confident that he always gets his man.
I wouldn’t say this is Gilbert’s most complicated mystery, but I think it is up to her high standards when it comes to storytelling. Seasoned readers will be able to anticipate one of the tale’s twists and with that the identity of the culprit. Though there are plenty of other likely candidates, so I don’t think the reader are completely confident they have the right answer. Equally I don’t think until Crook has his showdown readers will be able to iron out the details of how the crime was committed.
This is an unusual story in having two sort of female leads: Hatty and Marguerite. Whilst the latter is definitely a wrong ‘un, an anti-heroine almost, I wouldn’t automatically demarcate Hatty as the heroine. Hatty is an interesting character because she is not a wholly sympathetic one. She does bear some consequences of living the rich girl lifestyle and her honesty doesn’t always do her much favours, especially with the police. Her approach to relationships and marriage is also a little questionable. You could say she has a few lessons to learn. Yet in a way I think she is engaging enough that a reader would quite like to read a sequel novel featuring her. Both of these women in a way battle for page space in the narrative and I would argue that Marguerite becomes the more dominant, in terms of causing action and propelling the plot forward.
Crook is a delight as always and his manner of speaking, invariably raises a reader smile, with his humorous straight talking:
‘And it stands to reason someone did it and you don’t go around sticking knives into people’s backs because you’ve finished your library book and there’s nothing good on the telly.’
The social/cultural side of the novel is also quite interesting in the way it records the ways society was changing. At the start of the book in particular I would say there is a struggle going on between the old and new, such as in the way young woman met men and brought them into their existing social circle. This way was of course much freer, something Hatty’s mother doesn’t quite agree with:
‘She wondered about this Alan Duke; it was Victorian to expect references these days, but sometimes she thought the Victorians had quite a lot of sense on their side.’
And in fairness to Hatty’s mother, the lack of information people have on their neighbours’ past histories in the post war period, does become relevant to the final solution.
Finally for readers who enjoy glimpses of contemporary fashion, there are a number of “fashion” moments in the book and especially for my clothes loving blogger compatriot, Moira (Clothes in Books), I have included an image below of the sort of hat Hatty wears at the start of the book, which is likened to a beehive.
Hatty’s mother thinks it an ‘absurd fashion,’ but I got to admit I do rather like it!
Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): Lawyer/Barrister/Judge