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by Bamber Gascoigne

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. Her cousin was the actor and screen-writer William Miles Malleson, perhaps best remembered for his roles in such films as The Thief of Bagdad (1940), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1952).

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." ('Bowlers, Beer, Bravado, and Brains: Anthony Gilbert´s Arthur Crook' by Jane S. Bakerman, in The Mystery Fancier, edited by Guy M. Townsend, Volume 2 Number 4, July 1978, p, 5) 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 the story.

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 sustained interest."

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 Ross (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 writer, whose average sales were 1,250 copies. "I like being a writer," she said, "which is just as well, as I clearly could not be anything else." (Three-a-Penny: Radio 4 Book of the Week, 2019) 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". (Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart, and the British Detective Novel, 1929-1961 by Curtis Evans, 2012, p. 89) 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. "One thing about writing for a living," she said, "is that it leaves you very little time for those mystical self communings that are so destructive of sound work." ('Malleson, Lucy Beatrice,' in  World Authors 1950-1970, ed. by John Wakeman, 1975, p. 924) Malleson guarded her true identity behind the pseudonym of Anthony Gilbert carefully; she even disguised as a man in an author  photo.

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); 'Malleson, Lucy Beatrice,' in  World Authors 1950-1970, ed. by John Wakeman (1975); Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, ed. by Chris Steinbrunner and Otto Penzler (1976); 'Gilbert, Anthony' by Jane S. Bakerman, in Twentieth Century Mystery and Crime Writers, ed. by John M. Reilly (1985); 'Gilbert. Anthony,' in Encyclopedia Mysteriosa by William L. DeAndrea (1997); Discovering the Family of Miles Malleson 1888-1969 by Andrew Malleson (2012) 

Selected works:

  • The Man Who Was London, 1925 (as J. Kilmeny Keith)
  • The Sword of Harlequin, 1927 (as J. Kilmeny Keith)
  • The Tragedy at Freyne, 1927 (as Anthony Gilbert; Scott Egerton novel)
  • Nettle Harvest, 1927 (as Sylvia Denys Hooke)
  • Old Stars for Sale, 1928 (as Sylvia Denys Hooke)
  • The Murder of Mrs Davenport, 1928 (as Anthony Gilbert; Scott Egerton novel)
  • The Mystery of the Open Window, 1930 (as Anthony Gilbert; Scott Egerton novel)
  • Death at Four Corners, 1929 (as Anthony Gilbert; Scott Egerton novel)
  • The Night of the Fog, 1930 (as Anthony Gilbert; Scott Egerton novel)
  • Aubrey Dene, 1930 (as Sylvia Hooke)
  • The Case Against Andrew Fane, 1931 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • The Body on the Beam, 1932 (as Anthony Gilbert; Scott Egerton novel)
  • The Long Shadow, 1932 (as Anthony Gilbert; Scott Egerton novel)
  • Strange Guest, 1932 (as Sylvia Hooke)
  • The Musical Comedy Crime, 1933 (Scott Egerton novel)
  • Death in the Fancy Dress, 1934 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Portrait of a Murderer, 1934 (as Anne Meredith)
  • The Coward, 1934 (as Anne Meredith)
  • The Man in Button Boots, 1934 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • An Old Lady Dies, 1934 (as Anthony Gilbert; Scott Egerton novel)
  • The Man Who Was Too Clever, 1935 (as Anthony Gilbert; Scott Egerton novel)
  • Murder by Experts, 1936 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: The Dover Train Mystery)
  • Lady at Large, 1936 (as Lucy Egerton)
  • Courtier To Death, 1936 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • The Man Who Wasn't There, 1937 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • The Gambler, 1937 (as Anne Meredith)
  • Murder Has No Tongue, 1937 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Treason in My Breast, 1938 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • The Showman, 1938
  • The Bell of Death, 1939 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • The Clock in the Hat Box, 1939 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Dear Dead Woman, 1940 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title Death Takes a Readhed)
  • The Vanishing Corpse, 1941 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: She Vanished in the Dawn) - film: They Met in the Dark (1943), prod. Marcel Hellman, dir. by Carl Lamac, starring James Mason, Joyce Howard, Tom Walls, Phyllis Stanley
  • There's Always Tomorrow, 1941 (U.S. title: Home Is the Heart)
  • The Woman in Red, 1941 (U.S. title: The Mystery of the Woman in Red) - films: My Name is Julia Ross (1945), dir. by Joseph H. Lewis, screenplay by Muriel Roy Bolton, starring Nina Foch, Dame May Whitty, George Macready; TV drama (1955), dir. Buzz Kulik, starring Fay Bainter, Beverly Garland and Paul Richards; uncredited: Dead of Winter (1987), screenplay by Marc Shmuger and Mark Malone, dir. Arthur Penn, starring Mary Steenburgen, Roddy McDowall, Jan Ruber, William Russ
  • Something Nasty in the Woodshed, 1942 (as Anthony Gilbert; US title: Mystery in the Woodshed)
  • The Case of the Tea-Cosy's Aunt, 1942 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: Death in the Blackout)
  • The Mouse Who Wouldn't Play Ball, 1943 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: Thirty Days to Live) - films: Candles at Night (1944), prod. British National Films, dir. by John Harlow, screenplay by John Harlow and Basil Mason, starring Eliot Makeham, Beatrix Lehman, John Salew, Joss Ambler; La trampa (1949), prod. Lumiton (Argentina), dir. Carlos Hugo Christensen, starring Zully Moreno, George Rigaud and Juana Sujo
  • A Spy for Mr Crook, 1944 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • He Came by Night, 1944 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: Death at the Door)
  • The Scarlet Button, 1944 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: Murder Is Cheap)
  • The Black Stage, 1945 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: Murder Cheats the Bride)
  • Don't Open the Door, 1945 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: Death Lifts the Latch)
  • The Spinster's Secret, 1946 (U.S. title: By Hook or Crook)
  • Death in the Wrong Room, 1947 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Die in the Dark, 1947 (U.S. title: The Missing Widow)
  • Lift Up the Lid, 1948 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: The Innocent Bottle)
  • Death Knocks Three Times, 1949 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Murder Comes Home, 1950 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • A Nice Cup of Tea, 1950 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: The Wrong Body)
  • Lady-Killer, 1951 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Miss Pinnegar Disappears 1952 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: A Case for Mr. Crook)
  • Footsteps Behind Me, 1953 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: Dark Death; Black Death)
  • A Case for Mr Crook, 1953 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Snake in the Grass, 1954 (as Anthony Gilbert, U.S. title: Death Won't Wait)
  • Is She Dead Too?, 1955 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: A Question of Murder)
  • Riddle of A Lady, 1956 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • 'The British or the American Story', 1956 (in The Mystery Writers' Handbook, ed. by Herbert Brean)
  • And Death Came Too, 1956 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Give Death a Name, 1957 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Death Against the Clock, 1958 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Third Crime Lucky, 1959 (U.S. title: Prelude to Murder)
  • Death Takes A Wife, 1959 (as Anthony Gilbert, U.S. title: Death Casts a Long Shadow)
  • Out For the Kill, 1960 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • She Shall Die, 1961 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: After the Verdict)
  • Uncertain Death, 1961 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • No Dust in the Attic, 1962 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Ring for a Noose, 1963 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Knock Knock, Who's There, 1964 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: The Voice)
  • The Fingerprint, 1964 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Passenger To Nowhere, 1965 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • The Looking Glass Murder, 1966 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • The Visitor, 1967 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Night Encounter, 1968 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: Murder Anonymous)
  • Missing from Her Home, 1969 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Death Wears A Mask, 1970 (as Anthony Gilbert; U.S. title: Mr. Crook Lifts the Mask)
  • Tenant For the Tomb, 1971 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Murder's A Waiting Game, 1972 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • A Nice Little Killing, 1973 (as Anthony Gilbert)
  • Crime on the Coast and No Flowers by Request, 1984 (with others)
  • Three-a-Penny: Radio 4 Book of the Week, 2019 (as Lucy Malleson;  introduction by Sophie Hannah)

Books as Anne Meredith

  • The Coward, 1934
  • The Gambler, 1937
  • The Showman, 1938
  • The Stranger, 1939
  • The Adventurer, 1940
  • Three-a-Penny, 1940
  • The Family Man, 1942
  • Curtain, Mr. Greatheart, 1943
  • The Beautiful Miss Burroughes, 1945
  • The Rich Woman, 1947
  • The Sisters, 1948
  • The Draper of Edgecumbe, 1950 (U.S. title: The Unknown Path)
  • A Fif for Virtue, 1951
  • Call Back Yesterday, 1952
  • The Innocent Bride, 1954
  • The Day of the Miracle, 1955
  • Impetuous Heart, 1956
  • Christine, 1957
  • A Man in the Family, 1959
  • The Wise Child, 1960
  • Up Goes the Donkey, 1962

Plays and radio dramas:

  • The Plain Woman, 1940
  • Mrs. Boot's Legacy: A Sketch for Three Female Characters, 1941 (play, London, French, 1941)
  • Death at 6:30, 1940
  • A Cavalier in Love, 1940
  • The Bird of Passage, 1941
  • There's Always Tomorrow, 1941
  • Calling Mr. Brown, 1941
  • He Came by Night, 1941
  • The Adventurer, 1941
  • Footprints, 1941
  • Thirty Years Is a Long Time, 1941
  • A Bird in a Cage, 1942
  • His Professional Conscience, 1942
  • Find the Lady, 1942
  • The Home-Coming, 1944
  • Mystery Man of New York, 1945
  • Of Brides in Baths, 1945
  • Full Circle, 1946
  • Hard Luck Story, 1947
  • The Sympathetic Table, 1948
  • A Nice Cup of Tea, 1948
  • Profitable Death, 1950
  • After the Verdict, 1952
  • Now You Can Sleep, 1952
  • My Guess Would Be Murder, 1954
  • I Love My Love with an 'A', 1957
  • No One Will Ever Know, 1960
  • Black Death, 1960
  • And Death Came Too, 1962

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