Michael Gilbert’s Death Has Deep Roots has more hats than heads to wear them. It’s a courtroom drama with the accused as the least part of the story. It’s a locked room mystery with an entire hotel featuring in the murder instead of a single room. It’s a PI novel without the PI. It’s an historical novel set in the aftermath of a war that is five years ended by the time we’re reading about it sixty years later.
And, in case you were worried, it is satisfyingly full of those Gilbertian mini-scenes so illuminating of plot and especially character, as here at the opening of the trial:
…Perhaps I might be allowed to put in one exhibit at this unusually early stage–I will have the draughtsman sworn in due course–I have had a large-scale plan prepared and it might assist us all if it was in front of us.”
“If the defence has no objection,” said Mr. Justice Arbuthnot.
“Anything,” said Mr. Macrea with ferocious good humour, “which can in any way assist in disentangling the prosecution’s story must have my whole-hearted support.”
And let us never forget the entrance of Maîtresse Gimelet:
The door at the end of the hall opened and a huge woman in black advanced towards them. It was an unexpected but none the less an impressive performance. As she advanced she crepitated. Like a snake over sun-warmed tiles; like a razor blade across a leather hone; like the leaves of a linden tree in the faintest breeze of a summer evening.
I had to look up crepitated. Ew. Meanwhile, non-PIs Nap Rumbold in Basse-Loire France and retired commando Angus McCann in the un-peaceful English countryside are investigating various aspects of the crime, avoiding suicide-by-bad-guys at every turn, and you never quite know, right up until the second to last chapter, whodunnit and why.
I love books I can’t label and this is one of them. It is also one of a series of classic crime novels recently republished in England by the British Library and here in the US by the Poisoned Pen Press, all with marvelous period piece cover art. Click through the cover art above to scroll through the titles available in trade and in e, including more by Michael Gilbert (Death in Captivity, Smallbone Deceased), forgotten treasures by John Bude, Georges Bellair, and Anne Meredith, and delightful little detours into, say, a collection of crime stories set on trains (Blood on the Tracks) and a Golden Age Puzzle Book featuring anagrams, crosswords, and word searches. There are over seventy titles in this series (so far) and all are knowledgeably introduced by author Martin Edwards, but be warned–you read his intro and you’ll have another half dozen books on your to-read list more than just the one you hold in your hand. Enjoy!