Poisoned Pen Press| 5 November 2019| 288 pages|reprint edition| 4.5*
Death Has Deep Roots: a Second World War Mystery by Michael Gilbert was first published in 1951. This edition, published in association with the British Library, has an introduction by Martin Edwards.
I thoroughly enjoyed Death Has Deep Roots. Set in 1950 it’s a mix of courtroom drama, spy novel and an adventure thriller. Victoria Lamartine, a hotel worker, and an ex-French Resistance fighter is on trial for the murder of Major Eric Thoseby, her supposed lover, and alleged father of her dead child. The story alternates between the courtroom scenes, where QC Hargest Macrea is in charge of Vicky’s defence, and the investigations of solicitor Nap Rumbold in France, and his friend Major Angus McCann, who now keeps a pub in Shepherd Market.
Vicky is the obvious suspect – she was found standing over Thoseby’s dead body in his room at the Family Hotel in Soho, a room that was only accessed by one staircase – making this a variation on a locked room murder mystery. In evidence was also against her as Thoseby had been stabbed using the same method that the Resistance fighters had been taught. But she insists that she is not guilty. Macrea and Nap believe her and Nap sets out to find the Englishman, Julian West, who Vicky says is the father of her dead child, whilst McCann investigates events in London.
I always like courtroom dramas and I think the courtroom scenes are impressive and persuasive as Macrea questions the prosecutions witnesses and manages to stall proceedings whilst Nap is away in France. It is, of course, much more complicated than I’ve described – there is a lot of information about the war in France and the work of the French Resistance, and the dangers that confront Nap as he digs deeper into what had happened to Wells. And I enjoyed the thrill of the chase as he travels through France with only a week to discover the truth.
I think what makes this book so good is not just the murder mystery, which I couldn’t solve, but also the setting and the characters. It was written not long after the end of the Second World War and it conveys a vivid impression of what life was like in both France and England, with memories of the war still fresh on people’s minds. Whilst Vicky is maybe a stereotypical character Nap, in particular, comes across as a more developed character – and a very likeable one too. It’s described as a book in the Inspector Hazelrigg series, but he only makes a brief appearance, with Nap, Macrea and McCann doing the main investigations.
Michael Gilbert was a British lawyer who wrote police procedurals, spy novels and many short stories, courtroom dramas, classical mysteries, adventure thrillers, and crime novels. I have another one of his to read, Smallbone Deceased and I hope to get round to it soon.
Many thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for a review copy via NetGalley.