Friday, August 11, 2017
Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book (s): BLOOD AND JUDGMENT (1951) by Michael Gilbert and DEATH IN FIVE BOXES (1938) by Carter Dickson
Two books today. First a book in which I couldn't wait to see what happened next and second a book in which (sadly) I didn't care what happened next because I lost interest in who did what to whom.
BLOOD AND JUDGMENT by Michael Gilbert, a really terrific and - far as I'm concerned - criminally unheralded book. I've only recently become a fan of Gilbert, being a relative newcomer to his work. Somehow I'd never heard of him except vaguely as if his books existed somewhere 'out there' and were not relevant to what I wanted to read at the time. Silly me.
Once I read the classic, SMALLBONE DECEASED, I became a fan. I also blogged recently about THE EMPTY HOUSE, another Gilbert book which I enjoyed though it was completely different from SMALLBONE - a thriller and not a whodunit.
I haven't read many, but what I have read from this author has been pretty good. (Well except for one dud.) As with any prolific writer, not all of Gilbert's books are equally wonderful, some are more wonderful than others, but I'd say if you haven't read any, don't wait around. Begin with SMALLBONE (if you haven't already) and take if from there.
In BLOOD AND JUDGMENT, we meet one of Gilbert's series characters, Detective Sergeant Patrick Petrella of the London Police, a dogged intuitive policeman devoted to his work. There aren't that many Petrella books, but based on this one, I definitely want to read the rest.
Though the title is kind of blah, I liked the synopsis and the cover and I was quickly caught up in the developing whodunit. This is a police procedural (of which I am very fond) with the usual police minutiae of which I am also very fond but written in a way that you won't get bogged down if that has been your only objection to procedurals in the past. Gilbert's writing is so fluid that it's almost as if you're gliding through the tale as one unexpected turn after another shifts the plot from here to there and back again all without the kind of heavy lifting that plagues less talented writers.
The plot moves very swiftly and once you begin reading, BLOOD AND JUDGMENT will prove to be a prime example of that wonderful cliche: a book almost impossible to put down.
Detective Sergeant Petrella (he's half Spanish) happens to be the cop who is called to the scene when the decomposing body of a woman is discovered by two boys in a tangled wood near a reservoir. As the tale develops we learn who the woman was and little by little how she came to be the victim of murder in a sordid and ever widening case involving an escaped felon, a vicious London gang, a jewel robbery and a sinister shadow of a man capable of changing his identity at the drop of a hat.
Amid the mixed cacophony of bird calls and the occasional hissing swan, a dark unwelcoming mood lingers at the scene of the crime and in the damp and lonely caretaker's cottage. A mood that reaches out to envelope the rainy streets of London as the investigation, a bit short-handed, must adjust to a publicity seeking Scotland Yard man. "For the head of one of the London districts to call in a detective superintendent from the Central pool at Scotland Yard is quite rare enough to be remarkable, and remarked upon."
Not completely satisfied by the results of the investigation, Petrella continues to dig deeper defying the higher ups even when a suspect is arrested, tried and convicted. Though threatened with disciplinary action, Petrella pursues his own clandestine inquiries. I especially liked the atmospheric night scenes of underwater diving at the reservoir as Petrella and an experienced police diver break the rules in the name of justice.
Here's a tiny sample of the author's often vivid style which I found especially memorable;
"The successful working out of his hunch depended entirely on the co-operation of this fiery little man with the ginger-colored mustache adhering like a blob of bitter marmalade to his aggressive upper lip." I like that.
A well crafted, entertaining book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading and recommend highly.
Now I remember why I stopped reading John Dickson Carr (Carter Dickson) ages ago. Although on the whole I'm a fan - I have recently written two blog posts on a couple of Carr books I liked very much upon re-reading, one I even loved - there comes a point in reading (or re-reading) Carr when your exhausted mind says, ' puh-leeze, take a break.'
Somewhere along the line the locked room or impossible crime nonsense just becomes tedious, (sacrilege to some, I know). But for goodness' sake, the constant rehashing of the crime scene and the ridiculous and detailed suspicions centering on EVERY person in the murder room, not to mention the recounting of the various and sundry ways to imaginatively poison a bunch of people without being seen, eventually made me sleepy.
I know John over at PRETTY SINISTER BOOKS doesn't share my views on this particular book, so head on over there and read his much more appreciative review. Look, I didn't hate the book, I just stopped caring and - gasp - found myself skimming. And if I have to hear Henry Merrivale address another male character as 'son' one more time I will spit. A little bit of Merrivale goes a very long way especially if you make the mistake of reading a couple of the books too close together.
Here is the difference as defined by myself to myself: I like whodunits. John Dickson Carr wasn't really writing whodunits, he was writing complicated and often very eccentric puzzles. Yes, I've enjoyed a few so far, but I made the mistake of reading one right after another - you can't do that with John Dickson Carr aka Carter Dickson.
DEATH IN FIVE BOXES begins cunningly enough with a dead man found in a room full of poisoned people who all survive but the victim. The dead guy wasn't poisoned (at least I can't remember if he was or not), instead he was stabbed in the back with a sword blade from one of those tricky umbrellas. So why all the song and dance? Why were the others poisoned? Who poisoned them? And HOW?? What was the point of poisoning the group then turning around and stabbing one guy? Who knows? I still haven't quite come up with the raison d'etre.
At any rate, a doctor who works with the police is almost immediately on the scene (he's the nominal hero) as is the daughter of one of the poisoning victims (the love interest) who, handily enough, was waiting outside the building where the murder takes place AND of course, knows more than she's willing to tell. And that's another thing, the constant lies from everyone involved is SO wearisome after awhile. But maybe that's just me.
Where do the five boxes come in? Well, that's later, first there's the odd contents of the victims' pockets (i.e. four watches in one and the rusted parts of an alarm clock in another) and the speculation about what it all means while Merrivale comes on the scene and smugly deciphers everything almost at once, but won't say a thing. Or in moments when it looks as if he's going to say something, he is ALWAYS interrupted by a door opening or a person entering or a phone ringing or God knows what. Not to mention that the same exact thing happens when one of the suspects exclaims, I KNOW WHO DID IT! Frustrating? Yeah, I'd say so, and underhanded.
I got tired of this very early, that's why I say, I should probably postpone reading more Carr for a while. I recently ordered another of his titles which I will probably just put at the bottom of my unread pile.
Two Carr books I definitely do recommend: THE EMPEROR'S SNUFF BOX and SHE DIED A LADY.
And since it's Friday once again, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.