ANTHONY GILBERT – Death Lifts the Latch. Smith & Durrell, US, hardcover, 1946. Detective Book Club, hardcover reprint, 3-in-1 edition, March 1946. Bantam #768, paperback, April 1950. First published in the UK by Collins Crime Club as Don’t Open the Door, hardcover, 1945.

ANTHONY GILBERT Death Lifts the Latch

   Even though the war seems to be over when this Arthur Crook mystery novel takes place, it wasn’t long over; and even so, the tale has a tangible Victorian feel to it, beginning with the Chapter One, as nurse Nora Deane makes her way in the fog to her next assignment, that of a woman bedridden in her home.

   Helping her make her way through the gloom is a man with a friendly voice but a hidden face, who after leaving her at length at the doorstep, asks if he may stop by the next day and take her to lunch. The date is not to be, however, as during the night her patient dies, under strange circumstances, she confesses to the doctor who arrives too late.

   It is the husband, in cases like this, who is the most obvious suspect, an fact which takes Nurse Deane to the dead woman’s brother at the dead woman’s request the night before. I shall do something a reviewer should not do, and state right out that Nurse Deane is correct. The husband did it.

   But where does the story go from here? Well, go it does, and in directions that caught me flatfooted each step of the way. First the body of the husband is found in a deserted quarry, then the brother disappears. The man in the fog – whom we haven’t forgotten about, have we? – does his best to find Nurse Deane, who by this time has disappeared herself. Enter the notorious criminal lawyer Arthur Crook.

   I enjoyed this book. I enjoy being caught flat-footed, and I enjoy clever writing – a combo you don’t always get, even when start reading relics of books like this one. I was caught so flat-footed that what I thought was a serious flaw in the plot itself was a trap (of sorts) deliberately put in place by the author, whom I give full credit to as being more clever than I.

ANTHONY GILBERT Death Lifts the Latch

   And with that, I think I’ll conclude my comments here by quoting liberally from page 200. Nurse Deane’s second patient, a redoubtable Mrs. Trentham, whose son is a reporter who has a sizable role in solving the case (sort of, since Mr. Crook, who has no Mr. Watson to confide in as the case goes along, confides in no one, but who has all the answers) says to the replacement nurse:

   “…the police and that extraordinary Mr. Crook are sitting by her [Miss Deane’s] bed night and day.”

   The new nurse sniffed. “Funny sort of hospital if they allow those goings-on.”

   “He reminds me rather of Bulldog Drummond – Mr. Crook, I mean,” mused Miss Trentham.

   “I wouldn’t know,” said the nurse, proceeding on an assumption common to her kind that all people over seventy are senile and should be treated as such. “Before my time.”

   “I can’t imagine why you young women are so proud of being born so late,” said Mrs. Trentham sharply. “You missed a great deal.”

   “Going to a better world than yours was,” said the nurse.

   “And you have us to thank for that….”