Forgotten Books: The Body on the Beam by Anthony Gilbert

Halfway through Anthony Gilbert’s The Body on the Beam, I thought that the law of averages had finally caught up with me. After two brilliant books and one pretty good, it was inevitable that the next one fail to live up to its expectations.

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Unlike the earlier three, in this book the emphasis is more on leg-work. The body of a young woman is found hanging in one of the rooms of an unsavoury quarter of London or as Gilbert so quaintly commenting on the character of the locality puts it:  It is fortunate the lighting is so defective; otherwise it might be surprising to discover the identity of some of its occupants at a comparatively late hour of the evening.(7)

The dead girl turns out to be one Florence Penny and it is left to Inspector Field to unravel the girl’s past. Not an easy thing considering most of the young women who end up in Menzies Street are often rootless. As Field thinks bitterly at one point why the uninitiated supposed a detective’s life to be one of excitement and colour. This tedious round of examination and cross-examination, of fitting a case together detail by tiny detail, the perpetual necessity for eliminating the superfluous, the long suspense, the disappointment and the weariness of motive, all these at times were irksome to a degree. (54)

And irksome to a degree, this novel is. Then Field zeroes in one Charles Hobart, a Cambridge graduate who had married Florence and than had separated from her. As Hobart wants to marry another girl, he had the motive for killing Florence. The police have soon made their arrest. However, the girl whom Hobart had decided to marry is none other than Lucy Egerton, the sister of Scott Egerton, the Liberal politician- detective of Gilbert’s and the hero of some ten-odd books before Arthur Crook erupted on the scene. Scott hires the services of detective Gordon and his men to prove Hobart’s innocence. More leg-work and  much plodding later, Gordon feels that he has another suspect in sight, Walter Sharpe, an old lover of Florence. But Sharpe wasn’t even in town on the day of the murder so how could he be there in Lucy’s room. The novel then enters the territory of Freeman Wills Crofts, goings and comings of trains are duly noted down, distances and time calculated.

Okay, I thought wearily, can we have Sharpe proved guilty, have the marriage of Lucy and Hobart, and have everyone live happily ever after. And then the tempo of the book changed! And how!! It was as if I was reading another book. An indescribable menace entered the narrative: He had not raised his voice nor changed his position, but it was as if, with that question, a charge of electricity shot through the room; all the suppressed vitality of the man leaped into his expression. Not one that heard him but started and quivered as the reflex of that passion touched him. (251)

I’ll not rate the book as high as the others but it is definitely better than many other mysteries.

Incidentally, the book, dedicated to one Una states:



Here is a murder well within your scope,
Love -treachery-mysterious pearls -forged letter,
A body dangling on a knotted rope –
Since crime must be, the bloodier the better.

Does anyone know who this Una is?


The cover image at the top is courtesy Curt Evans @ The Passing Tramp, who graciously scanned the cover of the first edition of the book and sent it to me. Thanks Curt.

Curt has also written two interesting posts about Anthony Gilbert recently. You can view them over here & here.


First Line: During the spring of last year the police were greatly perplexed by a violent death occurring at No. 39 Menzies Street.

Title: The Body on the Beam

Author: Anthony Gilbert

Publication Details: London: Collins, 1932

First Published: 1932

Pages: 255

Other Books read of the same author: The Clock in the Hatbox, Death Knocks Three Times, Lady-Killer

New Words/ Phrases/ People:

Ermine: heraldic fur representing the winter coat of the stoat (white with a black tail).

Demi-Mondaines: a woman supported by a wealthy lover
:                           a woman of the demimonde a : a class of women on the fringes of respectable society supported by wealthy lovers; also : their world
b : the world of prostitution
: a distinct circle or world that is often an isolated part of a larger world

Astarte: Greek name of a goddess known throughout the Eastern Mediterranean from the Bronze Age to Classical times. It is one of a number of names associated with the chief goddess or female deity.

Porphry: a variety of igneous rock consisting of large-grained crystals

Neurasthenia: a psychological disorder marked especially by easy fatigability and often by lack of motivation, feelings of inadequacy, and psychosomatic symptoms:

Marguerites: (among others) daisy-like flowering plants widely sold for garden use

Veronica: also called Speedwell, is a carefree and easy-to-grow perennial with long spikes of small petals in purple, blue, pink, or white

Gluyas Williams: American Cartoonist

Billet:Lodging for troops.
b. A written order directing that such lodging be provided.
2. A position of employment; a job.
3. Archaic A short letter; a note.

That’s all my eye and Betty Martin:  something is total and complete nonsense. It is found in British English from the eighteenth century on, but is hardly known today

Sou: a type of food pastry

Vituperation: Bitter and abusive language

Duenna:An older woman acting as a governess and companion in charge of girls, esp. in a Spanish family; a chaperon.

Kybosh:  that which puts a stop to anything. sort of like the phrase “to shoot down”
: anyone who exceeds in the art of repression.
: a curse
: someone avoided by people.
: a prison
: mental block.

Cachou: Throat lozenge, a breath freshner

Homburg: a formal felt hat characterized by a single dent running down the center of the crown (called a “gutter crown”)

Hazing: the practice of rituals and other activities involving harassment, abuse or humiliation used as a way of initiating a person into a group

Vamoosed: Depart hurriedly

Ju-jitsu: A martial art form

Soignee: Polished and well-groomed; elegant and refined


The book might be available in libraries. I borrowed it from a library myself.  [F.G.A 17]


Submitted for the British Books Challenge

Also submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Mystery/ Crime, 2013 Women, Let Me Count the Ways, Library Books, Vintage Mystery

Entry for Friday’s Forgotten Books

6 thoughts on “Forgotten Books: The Body on the Beam by Anthony Gilbert

  1. Very interesting review. Makes me even more eager to try this author out. I loved your list of words and meanings at the end. I have always wanted to track new words I learn in books.


  2. Thanks a lot Tracy. I am waiting for your views on Gilbert. Glad you liked the words and their meanings. Often I avoid looking up unfamiliar words in a dictionary but this year I am making a determined effort to do so.


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