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.
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
Having been re-published, the book can be ordered online. I picked it up from the library.
Submitted for the following challenges: AZRC, British Books, Mystery and Suspense, New Authors, Support Your Local Library, Vintage Mystery
Entry for Friday Forgotten Book