For years after the war Victoria Lamartine sought Major Eric Thoseby, whom she had known while both worked as part of the French Resistance. Now she stands accused of his murder. Means – he was stabbed through the heart using a technique employed by members of the Resistance, and the knife carries her prints. Motive – it is rumored that the Major was the father of her now dead child. Opportunity – he is found dead in his hotel room…the same hotel where Victoria now works…where the Major has agreed to meet her…and where there was seemingly, no one else with the opportunity. According to the police and the prosecution it is an open and shut case. As the trial begins, believing that her current defense team is also of that belief, Lamartine changes solicitors, requesting that Noel Anthony Pontarlier “Nap” Rumbold represent her. Now he has just eight days to uncover new information that will prove her innocence.
Nap has reason to believe that the prosecution’s case is riddled with holes that were never fully investigated. Victoria maintains that her reason for seeking out Major Thoseby was to find the true father of her child, Lieutenant Julian Wells, who was believed to have been captured by the Gestapo. The inhabitants of the hotel were never looked at by the police, and several appear to have questionable backgrounds. It is these elements which lead Nap to question her guilt, and to a new investigation by the defense.
Cleverly plotted, the story is broken down into two components, the courtroom scenes and the investigation. By creating this juxtaposition Gilbert constructs a fast paced read that is filled with tension. It also allows him to introduce a number of characters who have been seen in several of his previous works, each with their own strengths and expertise.
To undertake the investigation, Nap is sent to France to look into the history behind Victoria’s claims, much of it potentially lost amidst the turmoil of the World War II. During his hunt for information he is followed by a mysterious Frenchwoman, threatened by a murderous gang, and uncovers dark secrets from the war. Former British Commando, Major Angus McCann investigates the English side where he uncovers that the hotel residents and staff have secrets that make them just as suspect, and some interesting facts regarding Lieutenant Wells. Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Hazlerigg also has a part to play by subtly pointing McCann in the right direction at the beginning, and wrapping things up at the end. The courtroom is dominated by Barrister Hargest Macrae, who takes the strands of information, weaves them together, and crafts the true story of what happened and why.
My only quibble is with the ending which I found rather unsatisfying because it wrapped up just too fast. Other than that, Michael Gilbert has written a book which creates action, tension, atmosphere, and for me, a very engrossing and entertaining read.
The British Library has reprinted three of Michael Gilbert’s works (and they are published in the U.S. by Poisoned Pen Press). I’ve read all three and recommend them all very highly. But now that I’m aware of new and intriguing characters from unread books, I for one want more. British Library…are you listening?
My thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for the advanced reader copy made available for my review.
My Judgement – 4.5/5