Thursday, September 27, 2012

Forgotten Books: Death Knocks Three Times by Anthony Gilbert

John Sherren returned to London in a very thoughtful state of mind. Six months ago, he was reflecting, he had possessed three relatives, all a generation ahead of him, all in reasonably sound health; all, he believed, with a little money, or even quite a lot of money, and all incurably unmarried. And during the past six months, two of these relatives had died suddenly and inquests had been held. Now only Aunt Clara was left.

The Saturday before last, the rain-gods smiled on Delhi and How! The skies opened up. lightening lit up the dark night,and the thunder seemed to rip the world apart. It was the perfect time to read a mystery. And as I    started reading Anthony Gilbert's Death Knocks Three Times, it seemed to me as though art was imitating reality:

Ever since midday the rain had poured down with such ferocity that the whole moor seemed awash.

Having lost his way in the rain, the lawyer, Walter Crook lands up at the house of an eccentric colonel: , who lives alone in that huge Gothic house [which Crook thinks would be an appropriate setting for a story of E.A. Poe] with only his retainer, Bligh, for company.

As Crook is shown into a guest room, he notices that the bath is a Victorian contraption and thinks how easy it'd be to kill somebody in it. [The Victorian horror with its lid and other paraphernalia left me non-pluss being just a balti and mugga person]. Anyway, Crook's thoughts turn true as he is called for an inquest right after he returns to London. The Colonel it seems had been found dead in his bath. The Coroner, examines Crook, Bligh, and John, the nephew of the Colonel who is a writer [The coroner made perfectly obvious that he had no knowledge of John Sherren as a writer and had no intention of correcting his ignorance] and had visited his uncle on the day after Crook blundered his way in. Half of the jury thinks Bligh is guilty, the other half is suspicious of John. However, both of them are acquitted because of a lack of evidence though the possessions of the Colonel pass on to Bligh.

John thinks that it is very curious that two of his three aged relatives have died one day after he met them and returned to his home. Now he only has an aunt left, the formidable Clara Bond . John decides to visit his aunt. On the way, he strikes up an acquaintance with another formidable lady, Frances Pettigrew. He realises that she too is going to meet his aunt who has asked her for help as she has been receiving anonymous letters.

He couldn't meet her eyes. She was a terrible woman. He wondered if her secret source of knowledge told her anything else, that he'd come down to carry out the threats in the anonymous letters and murder his Aunt Clara. It wouldn't have surprised him in the least.

Unknown to John, Crook too is on the scene and everybody waits with bated breath for Clara Bond to die. But this time, an aged relative dies while John is still present on the scene and the police arrests him. But of course, one needs proof against an accused...

I hadn't heard of Anthony Gilbert till I started blogging. Then I read her The Clock in the Hat-Box and was totally bowled over. This book too has a major punch line in the end but more than the mystery I enjoyed the sparring between the two spinsters, Clara and Frances, and the reactions of the men caught between these two tigerish ladies. Also the atmosphere of the hotel where old people pass the rest of their lives was very evocative and some of the guests like Major Atkins, who recalls each and every campaign of his; and Commander Potter, who keeps an eye on the comings and goings of each and everyone, are memorable. Certain scenes like the game of bridge and the tea ceremony [with its comments on the rationing of the post-war years] that follows it are wonderfully executed.

I also loved how Gilbert weaves other literary characters in her novel. There are references to Father Brown, Lord Peter Whimsey, and Albert Campion. And I wonder whether J.K. Rowling had read this book because there are both a Potter and a Pettigrew in the book.

Gilbert really has been the find of this year and this book, like her other one, is highly recommended.


First Line: Ever since midday the rain had poured down with such ferocity that the whole moor seemed awash.

Title: Death Knocks Three Times

Author: Anthony Gilbert

Publication Details: NY: Walter J. Black, 1949

First Published: 1949

Pages: 157

Other Books read of the Same Author: The Clock in the Hat Box


The book is available for free at the Open Library. You could read it online as I did or download it.


Submitted for the following challenges: British Books, E Book, Mystery and Suspense, Vintage Mystery.



  1. Good choice, Neer. I can see why you read it on a rainy day. A murder mystery in and around a Gothic or Victorian setting always has a tantalising feel about it. I'll look up Anthony Gilbert's fiction.

    1. Thanks Prashant.

      Yes, there are certain days when you have to read a particular kind of book. And the deluge that day was amazing. Do read Anthony Gilbert. I'd love to read your views on her.

  2. Nice review Neer and you certaonly make this sound like a good one - have only ever come across a few of Gilbert's books but will see what i can find - thanks

    1. Thanks Sergio.

      Do read Anthony Gilbert. The two that I have read of her have been fantastic. I'd love to read your views on her.