The Dean of Melchester Cathedral is of course concerned when he learns that he is not the only resident of the cathedral Close to receive an anonymous letter accusing the senior verger Daniel Appledown of misconduct. Luckily, he has a nephew who works in the C. I. D., and who can investigate on the quiet for him. But Detective Sergeant Bobby Pollock has barely started when Appledown is murdered. It can’t be kept quiet now, and Pollock calls on his boss, Inspector Hazelrigg, to take on the investigation.
Close Quarters is a traditional mystery of the closed circle variety. But instead of a small English village, we are treated to the interesting social structure of a cathedral close. And the closed circle that has their apparently sedate lives disturbed is a preponderance of presbyters. Gilbert makes sure to give us many of the representative characters. There’s a kindly, somewhat absent-minded Vicar—the Dean of Melchester; the nosy elderly widow—Mrs Judd, relic of the now deceased Canon Judd; the victim’s disreputable brother—Artful Appledown, and a village bobby with his large chaotic family—Sergeant Bumfit, to name just a few. And just so you’re aware, that really is to name just a few. There are quite a number of characters. Lucky for us the book comes complete with lists of characters and some very handy maps.
The story is full of subtle humor. And just as in any village, there is of course the usual gossip and back-biting, which Gilbert portrays with plenty of wit.
‘Good gracious me, you don’t have to be invited. It’s a regular Thursday afternoon ‘do’. The Chapter take it in turns, and everyone in the Close rolls up and eats sandwiches and lacerates each other’s characters, and all in the most Christian way imaginable. You’ll regret it all your life if you miss it.”
But while for the most part this is a seemingly light-hearted depiction of the Close, there is also an underlying grimness that you don’t pick up on right away. As it progresses, there emerges a harder edge to the story, as if Gilbert is determined that events, no matter how disturbing, suit the story, and not his audience.
The solution to the mystery is difficult but not impossible. And it’s helped along by a fabulous sequence in which two of the canons are presented with a crossword puzzle, which once worked out, leads to a previously unknown motive. What’s really fun is that the reader can work the puzzle out for themselves—well they can if they’re any good at British cryptic crosswords, which I definitely am not.
I hadn’t read any Gilbert for a while, but this makes me want to read more…and sooner rather than later.
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2015 Bingo—Read one book with a professional detective