Victoria Lamartine is on trial for the murder of Major Eric Thoseby. The murder was committed in a small in the Family Hotel in Pearlyman Street, run by Monsieur Sainte, who came to London after the war. Vicky is another French refugee, assisted by the Société de Lorraine, an organisation set up to help French citizens in London, to find work after suffering imprisonment & torture by the Gestapo for her role in the Resistance in the Angers region. Thoseby had been the SOE contact in the area. He knew Vicky & she had been in contact with him after the war, trying to trace Lieutenant Julian Wells, the father of her baby. Vicky gave birth in a prison camp & the baby later died of malnutrition but Vicky didn’t believe the story that Julian had been killed by the Gestapo in the same raid when she was caught. Thoseby was at the hotel that night to meet Vicky & she was discovered standing over his body. The murder weapon, a kitchen knife, has her prints on it & the very efficient method used to stab Thoseby was taught to Resistance fighters during the war.
Nap Rumbold is the junior partner in his father’s firm of solicitors. He is surprised to be contacted by Vicky’s solicitors two days before the trial commences & asked to take on the case. Vicky was dissatisfied with her counsel, who obviously believed her guilty, & she had heard of Nap through Major Thoseby (they were wartime colleagues). Nap agrees to see Vicky & is impressed by her story. The police case is that Major Thoseby was the father of Vicky’s child & that she murdered him when he refused to support her. Nap believes her innocent but realises how difficult it will be to prove her innocence & discover the true murderer. Nap enlists Major Angus McCann, a private investigator, to pursue the London end of the investigation while he goes to France to look into the wartime roots of the relationship between Vicky & Thoseby. The investigation is complicated by the other guests at the hotel, including alcoholic Colonel Alwright & Mrs Gwendolyne Roper, whose evidence seems damning until her own activities are scrutinised.
This is a great combination of courtroom drama & adventure story. The background of the war & the French Resistance is exciting & Nap’s investigations in Angers reveal many secrets that desperate men would kill to keep hidden. The chapters alternate between the trial & Nap’s investigations & this structure works very successfully. I’ve always been a fan of courtroom drama (Witness for the Prosecution is one of my favourite movies) & the sober recounting of evidence contrasts well with the chapters in France as Nap tries to break through the obstructions of people who have many secrets. The wartime background is fascinating as the motives of everyone involved are untangled & the time constraints involved ramp up the tension beautifully. It was a real treat to have the opportunity to read Death has Deep Roots for the 1951 Club.
The 1951 Club has been a wonderful excuse to read & reread some terrific books. There are lots of links to more reviews on Simon’s blog here. As well as the two books I’ve reviewed, I’ve also listened to the audio book of The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, read by Derek Jacobi. This is one of my favourite books & I must have read or listened to it over 20 times. I’ve also reviewed My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier (I’m looking forward to the new movie very much. There’s a trailer here). Other reviews on the blog – The Blessing by Nancy Mitford, Round the Bend by Nevil Shute, There are so many more that I read pre-blog, 1951 must be one of my favourite reading years! One that brought back happy memories when I saw it in the Goodreads list was Désirée by Annemarie Selinko, a romantic novel about Napoleon’s first love. I’ve also read The End of the Affair by Graham Green, They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie, The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (after seeing the TV series with John Duttine back in the 70s), Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary (a childhood favourite), Night at the Vulcan by Ngaio Marsh, Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer, A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor, An English Murder by Cyril Hare, The Lute Player by Norah Lofts & Florence Nightingale by Cecil Woodham-Smith. I’d recommend them all, even though I read many of them over 35 years ago. What a great year for publishing!