Friday, 18 February 2011

Forgotten Book - Three-A-Penny


The name of Anthony Gilbert is not often mentioned in the blogosphere, but in her day she (yes! Gilbert was a pseudonym for Lucy Malleson) was a prolific and successful crime writer, most famous for her books featuring Arthur Crook. I read one of them a long time ago, but wasn’t hugely tempted to try another.

However, I’ve just read her memoir, Three-A-Penny, published in 1940 under one of her other pen-names, Anne Meredith, and found it very interesting, not least for her take on her initiation into the Detection Club. She was very different from many of her fellow members – the likes of E.C.Bentley, G.D.H.Cole, Ronald Knox and Dorothy L. Sayers were all Oxford-educated. Gilbert was educated in the good old university of life.

She writes well of her early life, and the financial hardship her family suffered. She left school and became a shorthand typist, but with a burning ambition to write. And before long, she succeeded. Her early crime novels were nothing special, but adopting the Gilbert name transformed her fortunes.

The merit of this memoir is such that it has tempted me to give her work another try. One person she did not mention in the book, perhaps surprisingly, was her cousin. This was Miles Malleson, the actor, still remembered as the hangman in Kind Hearts and Coronets.

11 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Thanks for this glimpse into Gilbert/Malleson's life. Such a lot of interesting things I didn't know. I should look up some of her work...

vegetableduck said...

Anthony Gilbert was considered one of the better English genre writers of her day (she also wrote mainstream novels). Plotting, on the other hand, is less interesting with her (at least from the puzzle standpoint), especially after her early books. But some of her books are interesting and entertaining. I suspect had she started later she would have done "psychological suspense." Some of her books certainly approach that.

Given her interest in the plight of "superfluous women" (she herself was one and she did much more with this subject than Sayers), it's surprising that so little has been written about her in this day, when women writers with a conscious feminist viewpoint are being "rediscovered" right and left.

One thing I've never seen, is a photo of this author. Is there one in existence?

aguja said...

This is to tell you that I have finished reading your book.
Apart from becoming a little entangled at the beginning as to who was who (I think as I have not read the previous ones)I just kept reading on until the end.

I did suspect the one murderer as soon as she appeared, but not the other.

The story is gripping, but what I really enjoyed is your descriptive prowess, taking one right into the scene, and the historical detail being exactly what was needed and no more (having read books in which historical detail is vying with the plot) ... and, particularly, that the book is expremely well written.
I wish you every success!!

Dorte H said...

I have just checked my tags, and I can see I share your view of the Arthur Crook stories. I have read "A Nice Cup of Tea" and ""Night Encounter" before that, however, and I remember those two as more engaging stories (even though I read them in Danish which is rarely an advantage).

I always think it is a bit sad when I hear about female writers who had to resort to initials or pen names to gain success, and as many of the very best British crime fiction writers are women, it is odd that it should make such a difference.

Todd Mason said...

If I knew Gilbert was a pseud, I'd forgotten. Yet another whose work I've read a scrap or two of, some years past...the memoir does sound interesting, indeed.

Christine said...

I have got a box full of Anthony Gilbert novels here. My mother liked them - and I have read a fair few of them in my time, too.

Martin Edwards said...

Aguja, very many thanks!!

Martin Edwards said...

Curt, which books deal best with the 'superfluous woman' theme you mention? Any other recommendations?

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these responses. Dorte, I agreee it is odd. Mind you, the use of pen-names seems to be on the rise again.

aguja said...

'De nada' Martin. Keep on producing the books!

Dean James said...

I have most of her work, and I've read a fair number of the Arthur Crook stories. The best ones, I think, are from the 1940s and 1950s. She has a quirky sense of humor, and I think if you don't get it or find it amusing, you might not like the books that much. I've enjoyed all the ones I've read.