Thursday, August 2, 2012

Viola!!! Anthony Gilbert's The Clock in the Hat-Box

Shadows assumed fantastic proportions around me; the uncertainty of the future made me hear sounds that had no existence but in my own brain; a curtain moved; it might have been twitched aside by an invisible hand...





Sometimes, one finds such gems. I had not even heard of Anthony Gilbert till a few weeks ago and then I read about her on a blog and subsequently picked up her book: The Clock in the Hat-Box, from the library. And what a find it has turned out to be!

Viola Ross is in the docks for having murdered her husband Teddy Ross. As there is a lot of circumstantial evidence against her, the majority of the jury is convinced of her guilt. All except one member: the novelist (and narrator of the story) Richard Arnold. His dissent saves her from the gallows and then he sets about trying to prove her innocence. However, it is tough going as the evidence against her is overwhelming. She had quarreled with her husband, the rat-like Teddy Ross - who might have decided to disinherit her; she was supposedly involved in an extra-marital affair with (god forbid!) her own step-son, the handsome Harry Ross; she was the only one with the motive and the opportunity, ....so on and so forth.

As Arnold tries to get her out of the mess, he finds himself sinking deeper into it himself. And then the attempts against his own life begin...

The best part of the book is how Gilbert manipulates the readers. The same character goes from being sympathetic, to unsympathetic, to totally repulsive... and then back to being sympathetic. Just when I was feeling smug to have discerned the identity of the murderer, Gilbert pulled the rug from under my feet.

I also loved the humour present through-out the novel. Here's one instance:

He talked in a loud voice and contrived to awaken the woman in the flat across the landing. I heard next day that she complained of the row.

"A gentleman  taken very ill, might have died," she was told.

"He's no gentleman," was her classic retort, "or he'd know it's possible to die quietly without waking all your neighbours."

I also love how writers of yore referred to each other's characters. If Crofts' Inspector French referred to the Belgian who uses his grey cells, over here an irate woman tells Arnold: "I don't know why you're so keen to get her off, unless you're like Lord Peter Wimsey, who was so much intrigued by meeting a murderess that he proposed at once."


A cracker of a mystery. Recommended whole-heartedly.

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First Line: The Judge was finishing his summing-up.

Title: The Clock in the Hat-Box

Author: Anthony Gilbert

Publication Details: Calcutta: Collins, 1944.

First Published: 1939

Pages: 182

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Having been re-published, the book can be ordered online. I picked it up from the library.


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Submitted for the following challenges: AZRC, British Books, Mystery and Suspense, New Authors, Support Your Local Library, Vintage Mystery

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Entry for Friday Forgotten Book

6 comments:

  1. I read several Anthony Gilbert books back in the late 60's but all I can remember is that I enjoyed them. Glad to hear about the re-publishing.

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    1. Gilbert has been quite a revelation. I'd love to read more of her books. The book is available at Amazon but it is very expensive.

      Thanks for visiting.

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  2. Thanks for the tip-off, Neer! This is one of the books that was on my wish list. I discovered Gilbert last year when I read three of her books back-to-back and my favorite was the suspenseful Something Nasty in the Woodshed.

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    1. Gilbert has been a remarkable find. This book was masterful in the way she manipulates the readers. Read it asap. I'd love to read what you thought of it.

      Thanks for visiting.

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  3. I'm adding this one definitely to my list. It sounds terrific. Just the sort of thing I am usually in the mood for come Autumn and the days get crispier. Don't ask, I can't explain it. Ha.

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    1. Welcome back Yvette. Do read it. It is definitely in the 'top' mysteries read. I understand. To me also, certain reading is associated with certain seasons.:)

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