Can’t decide whether to read a British courtroom drama or a tale of continental adventure? This tour de force, originally published in 1951, provides both.
According to Crown Prosecutor Claudian Summers, Victoria Lamartine came from France to the U.K. after the war to find Maj. Eric Thoseby, the British officer working with the Resistance who’d fathered her late son, and killed him when he finally agreed to meet with her at London’s Family Hotel, where owner Honorifique Sainte, who’d come from the same Loire region as her, employed her as a receptionist. Vicky’s own take on this story is of course different: She’d had no reason to stab Thoseby to death because she’d never had an affair with him but sought him out only in the hope that he could give her information about Lt. Julian Wells, the real father of her child. On the eve of her trial, Vicky fires the solicitor who’d planned to plead her guilty and ask for mercy and instead begs young Nap Rumbold to take over her defense. After Rumbold briefs barrister Hargest Macrea to assume courtroom duties and asks Maj. Angus McCann to look for exculpatory evidence in England, he books passage for Angers in search of Wells. His quest is complicated by persistent rumors that his quarry was discovered, captured, and executed by the Gestapo during the war and hints that a group of gold smugglers somehow involved with the case are determined to keep Nap from learning anything, even if they have to resort to violence. “This isn’t a detective story,” grouses Macrea, but he’s doubly wrong: After deftly cutting back and forth between Nap’s increasingly fraught inquiries and Macrea’s legal tactics, Gilbert (The Curious Conspiracy: And Other Crimes, 2002, etc.) pulls them together with a virtuoso snap, producing an ending as logical as it is surprising.
A grand example of Gilbert’s ceaselessly inventive attempts to expand the remit of the traditional whodunit.