“One of them did it, of course,” he told himself, “but we shall never know which, so what the hell?”
A tense figure waits near a staircase, in anticipation. Suddenly there is a cry of fire and panicked figures come running out of the dark, converging near the staircase. A candle is lighted but before its flickering light can reveal anything, it falls down. There is a scream in the darkness as a figure tumbles down the stairs. When a torch is finally procured and switched on, the body of miser-millionaire, Everard Hope, lies at the bottom of the spare. It seems, he had caught his foot in a hole in the worn-out carpet and went tumbling down. But did it really happen like that? The home is full of his relatives who all wanted something out of Uncle Hope’s fortune: the lawyer Garth and his socialite-wife, Lucille; the Lacey brothers: Christopher and Hugh; the unimpressive writer Cecil and his sensible wife, Lilias. And then there is the housemaid-secretary, Julia. It seems Uncle Everard had summoned his lawyer and wanted to change his will but somebody didn’t want it.
When the will is finally read, the family is in for a shock. The money has gone to the eponymous mouse but with a caveat (Uncle Everard’s nasty joke): The mouse will only inherit if it remains alive, thirty days after the reading of the will. With the relations facing financial and other problems for which money is needed, how long will the mouse survive? Thankfully Arthur Crook is around.
This is vintage Gilbert. I always enjoy Gilbert not merely for the mystery but also for her characters and humour. And she is in such fine form in this novel. I could guess the culprit (though I was never cent percent sure) but that didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the novel. The humour, esp in Gilbert’s use of metaphor and similes, and a host of complex, interesting characters made the book totally riveting. And my sympathies were for all the persons concerned. The end was pretty satisfying too. Another thing that I liked was the description of war without any bitterness or demonising of the Germans. All in all, a book that needs to be republished.
Have you read it? Do you rate it highly too?
First Line: In the Icy long-dark house someone waited for zero hour.
Publication Details: 1943. London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1943.
Series: Arthur Crook #12
Alternate Title: 30 Days to Live
Other Opinions: Pretty Sinister Books
Trivia: Made into a movie, Candles at Nine, in 1944.
Other books read of the same author: (Among Others): Treason in My Breast