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||Anthony Gilbert (1899-1973) - Pseudonym for Lucy Beatrice Malleson; also wrote as J. Kilmeny Keith, Lucy Egerton, Anne Meredith, and Sylvia Denys Hooke|
Prolific British mystery writer, a woman writing under a man's name, whose most famous creation is lawyer-detective Arthur G. Crook. For many years, Gilbert's identity was kept secret; readers assumed that the author was a man. Distinctive for Gilbert's novels is skillful plotting, lively supporting characters, entertaining dialogue, and clever action without exaggerating violence. She wrote straight fiction – mostly with a Victorian flavor – under the pseudonym of Anne Meredith.
"You know, it's never safe to tread on a female. They have stings in their tails. I suppose Mullins thought of his wife as one of these poor fish he could do anything with, and didn't realise that with the weakest of women you're playing with fire." (from Dear Dead Woman, 1940)
Anthony Gilbert was born Lucy Beatrice Malleson in Upper Norwood,
London; the city remained her home for the rest of her life. Malleson
was educated at St. Paul's Girls' School, Hammersmith. Her mother hoped
that she would become a teacher. After her father, who was a
stockbroker, was thrown out of work in 1914, Malleson took a course in
shorthand and typing to be able to earn living for the family. This
life changing experience left her with a strong desire for independence
and a career of her own. Later, in her novels, she often portrayed
female characters, who regret their marriage and feel trapped in the
role of a housewife. In Death Takes a Wife (1959) the stockbroker father 'Midas' Mullins says to his daughter: "Women shouldn't be independent. It's against Nature."
Malleson worked as a secretary for the Red Cross, Ministry of Food, and Coal Association. Ignoring her mother's plans to make her a schoolteacher, she fulfilled her own ambition as a writer. At the age of seventeen, Malleson had published poems in Punch and literary weeklies. Her first book, The Man Who Was London, came out in 1925 under the name J. Kilmeny Keith.
After seeing John Willards' play The Cat and the Canary, Malleson decided to try her skills at the thriller genre. These early efforts were a failure. However, The Tragedy at Freyne
(1927), written under the pseudonym Anthony Gilbert, was well reviewed.
The story introduced Scott Egerton, a rising young British political
leader, who then solved crimes in some ten novels. In The Body on the Beam
(1932) Egerton examined the death of a young woman of dubious
reputation, whose body is found hanging in a third-rate lodging-house.
A young man is arrested, but Egerton approaches the problem from a
different angle and builds up an equally strong case against another
man from the woman's past, and traps the real criminal. Egerton background
separates him from the rest of the amateur upper-class
detectives. Through his character, Malleson express her idea of an
ideal MP: Egerton takes his duties seriously, his suit is perfectly
tailored, he believes that government subsidy is infernally dangerous,
and he values private happiness over political success.
Malleson's first Arthur G. Crook novel was Murder by Experts
(1936). It gained an enormous success and Malleson dropped Egerton. The
detective was created according to Malleson "as a corrective to the
increasing number of highly-born (not to say titled) British amateur
sleuths at that time swamping our fiction." During the years A. Crook
developed from rather unattractive Cockney character into a strong and
popular personality, although he is not generally the protagonist of
Crook featured in some 50 novels. Frequently he comes to help when a woman or a children is in peril, as in Missing from Her Home (1969), where a nine-year-old girl vanishes while on a trip to the supermarket. Crook is fond of his cars, the tiny Scourge, which he calls "The Old Superb", and the bright yellow Rolls, which he acquired after crashing the Scourge. In And Death Came Too (1956) Crook helps Ruth Appleyard, who is involved in several questionable death cases. A Question of Murder (1955) was a about a young woman who is suspected of murdering a boarder. As in the television series Columbo, starring Peter Falk, Crook is badly dressed and murders usually are unaware that they are soon in a trap. But when Columbo intuition always guides him to the right suspect, Crook thinks beforehand thant his clients cannot be guilty. He is the Criminals' Hope and the Judges Despair," as he calls himself.
Malleson was also an avid theater-goer. The Arthur Crook thriller Something Nasty in the Woodshed (1942) was adapted by Dennis Hoey for the stage as The Haven.
The play opened in New York in November 1946 but due to poor reviews it
was closed after five performances. Melville Cooper played a lawyer
named Arthur Cook. "Possibly
there is a good murder mystery show in what Hoey had in mind, but it
hasn't come out in a play script," said the reviewer in The Billboard (November 23, 1946).
"The author has merely succeeded in peopling a stage with an assortment
of pasteboard chaaracters, none of whom are ever real enough to excite
On the radio, Malleson often associated with
John Dickson Clark. She wrote more than 25 radio plays,
broadcasted in Great Britain and overseas. The Woman in Red (1941), about a secretary,
whose employer drugs her and tries to drive her mad to cover a murder, was broadcast
in the United States by CBS and made into a film under the title My Name is Julia
(1945), directed by Joseph H. Lewis, starring Nina Foch. "A likeable,
unpretentious, generally successful attempt to turn good trash into
decently artful entertainment," said James Agee of the film. They Met in the Dark (1943), an espionage thriller starring James Mason with a beard and Joyce Howard, was based on the novel The Vanished Corpse
(1941). The film was atmospherically lit by the Czech cinematographer
Otto Heller. Althought the original story featured Arthur Crook, the
lawyer-detective was cut out of the movie version.
Between the years 1934 and 1962, Malleson wrote 20 straight novels and one mystery, Portrait of a Murderer (1934) under the name Anne Meredith. This work was an "inverted mystery", which had been invented by R. Austin Freeman (1862-1943); the identity of the murderer or criminal is given away at the beginning.
Malleson's autobiography, Three-a-Penny (1940), was published under the name Anne Meredith. It dealt with her childhood, struggle with poverty, development of her literary interests, women's rights, and her life as a popular writer. "I like being a writer," she once said in an interview, "which is just as well, as I clearly could not be anything else." Malleson's short stories appeared from the 1940s in several anthologies, and such periodicals as Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and The Saint. Among these was 'The Mills of God', a poignant and heartbreaking crime story about abortion (EQMM, April 1969). Also the short story 'Fifty Years After', written under the name of Anthony Gilbert, dealt with the theme. "Salts of lemon was a common way out of trouble for girls who'd fallen into it. Easy to come by – you said you wanted it to clean a straw hat – a penn'orth or two-penn'orth over the counter and no questions asked." (from Ellery Queen's Murdercade, 1976) One of her stories, 'A True Account', was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1959 and another, 'You'll Be the Death of Me' for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1963.
Malleson was an early member of the British Detection Club, and she also served as its General Secretary. The Club had been formed by Anthony Berkeley, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and other leading British mystery writers 1930. The meetings were held at various restaurants in London, where the members would "discuss various plots and schemes of crime." Malleson was often seen in the company of John Dickson Carr, John Street and Sayers. She once complained that Carr "is the world's worst correspondent". Sayers addressed her in letters as "Anthony Gilbert". During the Blitz on London, which was not good time for Dinners, she helped to keep up the activities of the Club with Sayers. Noteworthy, while the Crime Queens (Christie, Sayers and Ngaio Marsh) have dominated studies on Golden Age mysteries, Malleson's work has remained unjustly neglected.
Malleson's short story 'You Can't Hang Twice' received a Queens award
in 1946. 'Door to a Different World', published in EQMM,
was an Edgar Award nominee in 1971. Malleson died on December 9, 1973. She never married. Her cousin was
the great character actor, playwright and scriptwriter Miles Malleson, who appeared in
such films as The Thief of Bagdad (1940), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Importance of Being Earnest (1952), and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959).
Series characters: traditional sleuth, the politician Scott Egerton, and the beer-drinking Cockney barrister Arthur G. Crook, an overweight detective like Nero Wolfe. Crook drives in Rolls Royce and comes on stage when it is time to solve the case. He lives in London on Brandon street and is addicted to bright brown, off-the-rack suits. His chaotic office is situated at the top of a shabby building in a disreputable part of the town. - For further reading: A Catalogue of Crime by Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor (1971); World Authors 1950-1970, ed. by John Wakeman (1975); Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, ed. by Chris Steinbrunner and Otto Penzler (1976); Twentieth Century Mystery and Crime Writers, ed. by John M. Reilly (1985); Encyclopedia Mysteriosa by William L. DeAndrea (1997); Discovering the Family of Miles Malleson 1888-1969 by Andrew Malleson (2012)
Books as Anne Meredith
Plays and radio dramas:
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