Sunday, 3 May 2015

Dress Down Sunday: The Black Stage by Anthony Gilbert


published 1945


LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES



Black Stage 2

Alistair, far more disturbed apparently than any of his guests, was aware, as he lifted the telephone receiver from its rest, of a stealthy sound on the stairs above him. He paused and called: ‘Who’s there?’

‘Alistair.’ There was a quick soft sound of feet and Alicia rounded the head of the staircase.

‘For Heaven’s sake, what’s going on? Has someone been murdered or what?’

‘Sh! Be careful what you say.’ Alistair’s voice was sharp.

Alicia came to a halt on the third step. What does that mean? Not…? But, Alistair, it was only a joke.’

‘Not to Bishop it isn’t. Nor to the chap who shot him.’

‘Shot? Bishop?’ Her voice was no higher than a whisper. ‘Then it was that. I heard it, but I didn’t believe it. I mean, things like that don’t happen to oneself…’

‘They have to happen to someone,’ countered Alistair grimly, ‘and really considering the turmoil and underground movements that have been going on here it’s surprising we haven’t had a murder before.’

‘Murder! Oh no, Alistair.’ Alicia caught up her pretty quilted dressing-gown and ran down the stairs. ‘Why, no one would be such a fool. It would be too dangerous.’


 
observations: Anthony Gilbert was quite a popular detective story author in his (her) day, but is almost completely forgotten now, and on the basis of this book I’m not wholly surprised. Gilbert was a pen-name: the books were written by Lucy Malleson, and there are a shed-load of them – many featuring her detective/lawyer Arthur Crook.

He is the best thing about the book: he was invented to be as un-aristocratic as possible, the opposite of Lord Peter Wimsey and Albert Campion. He is vulgar and common, and the nobs in the book dislike him, and hate it that he is brought to stay in the posh house.
This is odd, because they really are excruciatingly snobbish about everything, and they’re not shown as being wrong: it is clear one is meant to think the nice people really are nicer than the low-class people. I couldn’t quite make sense of Gilbert/Malleson’s attitude to Crook in the circumstances.

The main characters gather in the library at midnight to have out their various quarrels, blackmailing, extortion, revelations and threats. The lights go out, and in the dark a shot is heard. When the lamps are lit, a man lies dead on the floor. A really excellent setup. But the book was un-entertaining and tiresome. There was one good surprise – the time of death of one victim – and Crook was fun, but otherwise I found the murderer very easy to spot, and that left me time to consider other problems with the structure. One key character simply disappears from the second half of the book – we know where this person is, and they are very important, but we never really hear the end of their story. Three characters have similar names – Anne, Alistair and Alicia – which is annoying. There is no tidying up of loose ends after the murderer has been revealed.

There was the odd line like this one:
Crook said: ‘One man’s fun is another man’s chokey,’ and no one quite knew how to take that, so the subject got itself changed
- which made me laugh, but there weren’t enough such moments.

HOWEVER,  I have now read another book by Gilbert which was much better – look out for another entry soon.

For another quilted dressing-gown, see this picture (from Getty Images) here.















12 comments:

  1. This one sounds like a bit of a case of unfulfilled promise, Moira. I do like that setup (the shot in the dark) and the context, but if the rest of the story doesn't carry it though, that's disappointing. Interesting point about the class differences and the way 'Gilbert' dealt with that . Perhaps it was a case of awkwardness (i.e. 'I'm supposed to be more egalitarian, but I don't even know quite what that is, let alone how to write it')? Just guessing...

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    1. I think you might be right, and I feel she was onto something, and was entertaining and imaginative, but this book certainly didn't live up to its possibilities, and that's a shame.

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  2. Look forward to reading you NEXT Gilbert review then as i'd like to find a good place to start - thanks Moira.

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  3. The one book I have read by Anthony Gilbert left me cold... or at least not very excited. But I have read some good reviews of the author's books. So I will wait too and see what you liked about your latest read. (I hope it isn't the one I read... A Case for Mr. Crook, which had a wonderful cover.)

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    1. I really want to like them, it's such a pity they just miss....

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  4. Not on the piles, and not rushing to add him either. Hope the next one is better.

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    1. No, really not for you Col, although I'm sure you have a pretty quilted dressing gown of your own.

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  5. Strangely enough I am just listening to "The Black Stage" in my MP3 player when I'm exercising -- I haven't reached the end yet but I can already see where it's going and I agree with you substantially. The victim does everything possible to encourage everyone in the house to murder him as quickly as possible and then goes downstairs in the middle of the night, seemingly accompanied by all the suspects who leave their rooms at five-minute intervals. Bah. I have, though, been enjoying the pen portrait of the victim's fiancee who causes so much trouble simply because she is too lazy to lift a finger to tend to her financial affairs. I'm not hoping for much in the way of a surprise ending, but it's better than nothing at all to distract me from the treadmill ;-)

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    1. Yes I think it would do for that, and you're right not to have too great expectations for a big surprise. Definitely has some entertainment value though.

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  6. I read this one a couple years ago (and another a few years before that). I thought it decent, but my overall feeling on Gilbert's books is that she didn't bring Crook into the action soon enough in either one. I thought her stories much more lively and interesting once he got involved.

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    1. I agree completely Bev - she has this great character but seems determined to under-use him, ration him out. Can't think why - as you say, he really cheers things up when he arrives.

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