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.
4 thoughts on “Death Has Deep Roots by Michael Gilbert (British Library Crime Classics)”
Glad to hear you enjoyed this, Margaret. I do like Gilbert’s way of weaving atmosphere and building suspense, so I’m glad you felt drawn in. Like you, I enjoy a well-written courtroom scene or scenes; I think they really can add to the tension of a story. And the whole post-war context is an effective one for all sorts of stories. Little wonder you liked this one.
Michael Gilbert is one of my favorite authors, and I found this an unexpectedly strong entry. I am happy that the BL reissued this title, beside his more famous “Death in Captivity” and “Smallbone Deceased”. Beyond the several areas of strengths that you and Margot point out, I also liked the structure of the latter half or two-thirds of the book, where chapters alternate between the more ‘thrillerish’ action in France and the more cerebral courtroom action in London. I think this alternating structure would also work very well in a movie.
I enjoyed this one too, especially the courtroom scenes, though it was actually my least favourite of the three Michael Gilberts I’ve read, I loved Smallbone Deceased, which has a very different tone to it – hope you enjoy it!
I had this one passed on to me. I probably would not have bought it as I’m not much of a courtroom drama fan but your review has told me more about it so I feel a bit more positive and am quite keen to read it now. Always interested in anything to do with WW2, The Resistance, that kind of thing. I can also thoroughly recommend Michael Gilbert’s Death in Captivity… another WW2 plot involving a POW camp in Italy.
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