Another little gem of crime fiction by Michael Gilbert, he of The Night of the Twelfth and Fear to Tread and The Long Journey Home and The Queen Against Karl Mullen and so many more titles. If you haven’t heard of him, you have a long and happy reading time in front of you.
Here, Paddy Yeatman-Carter, young veteran, indifferent accountant, and hail-fellow-well-met bon vivant, saves one of his fellow men from committing suicide, only later to have that fellow man fall into Father Thames and drown. Or was he pushed? Paddy thinks so and makes inquiries, which inquiries result in an entirely unexpected sacking and the eventual unraveling of a vengeful, financial, and political conspiracy vast beyond his imaginings.
But the largest joy is always in the craft. Here, character impacts plot, with disastrous force:
Paddy stirred in his chair. He was on the point of making an observation so momentous that it might have changed the whole course of this narrative. Unfortunately, however, Lord Cedarbrook chose that moment to give vent to one of his most intimidating coughs, and Paddy relapsed into well-disciplined silence.
Yes, Gilbert is the biggest tease since Conan Doyle:
There are four important private detective agencies in London (there were five until last year when The Green Rhomboid got into such trouble over Lady Marshmoreton’s frivolous divorce and lost their license.
He is a past master at the less is more putdown:
“The eighteenth of July, 1911,” said Paddy. “That’s a long time ago.”
“Quite so,” said Lord Cedarbrook. “I wonder how these things occur to you.”
and as sharp social skewering:
…as time went on it seemed to become both more personal and more organised. Had such an outrageous thought been possible, it might even have been supposed that the police had taken to heart the remarks made by Mr. Blinkhorn in his summing up and were determined that the next time that James Watson was arrested it should be for assault.
(That is to say, to any less well regulated country than England, the thought might have occurred.)
Even if I hated the plot, which I emphatically did not, I’d still love this book for the prose. There is something equally delightful on every page. Love Michael Gilbert. Give him a try, you will, too.