Saturday, October 15, 2016

Michael Gilert, Open the Door

Michael Gilbert, Open the Door
As an ebook, House of Stratus 2012 (© 1949)

This was Michael Gilbert’s third book, and it’s a very good one.  It’s shortly after the end of WW2, and Paddy Carter (whose war record really is distinguished) has a boring job in an accounting firm.  On the way home one night, and about the only passenger on his train, he sees a man in the car behind his take out a pistol and look at it.  He recognizes the man as a neighbor, and fears that the man is planning to take his life.  So Carter makes a point of getting the man (a Mr. Britten) to join him for a drink.  During their conversation, he discovers that Britten is in his 50s, has just been fired from his job at a large insurance company, and has no prospects.  He talks Britten into giving him the pistol (which he subsequently throws into the Thames), and goes home, hoping hs has dissuaded Britten from killing himself.

When he arrives home from work the following day, he finds Detective Inspector Winterbourne waiting for him.  Britten’s body has been found in the river, possibly an accident, improbably murder; Winterbourne believes it to be a suicide.  Carter is unpersuaded; he saw Britten home (drunk), and thinks it unlikely that he would have gone back out.  And Britten’s wallet is missing—he had taken it out to show some papers to Carter when they were at the pub.

So Carter decides to poke into it.  He goes to the insurance company and has a talk with Mr. Legate (who is Britten’s boss’s boss); Legate confirms the firing, noting that Britten had become careless and had been making a number of small and not-so-small mistakes.   In the course of their talk, Carter describes the papers that Britten has shown him.

Three weeks later, Carter is fired.  He does not understand why, but discovers that a Mr. Brandison—Britten’s boss—has just seen his boss.  He suspects his firing is retaliation for…something.  He seeks out a wartime colleague, Noel Anthony Pontarlier Rumbold (known as Nap), now a barrister, for advice, They decide to investigate the situation together.  Their investigation leads them to discover something odd about an Italian restaurant (Nap), and some shady financial dealings than might involve Britten’s employer (Carter, who is now working as a financial journalist and has a reason to poke into financial shenanigans). 

We eventually get to the truth—Britten (no surprise) was murdered, and there are financial shenanigans going on.  With the help of Superintendent Hazelrigg (Gilbert’s series cop), and following some risks to everyone, the truth is discovered.

Gilbert writes well, especially about legal matters (his primary work was as a solicitor; the scene in the bankruptcy court is enough to make this book worthwhile), and his plots are devious but fair.   I had something of a problem with the ending, but, overall, this is a first-rate book.

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