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Gently Does It by Alan Hunter

Gently Does It (1955)

by Alan Hunter

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In a preface, Hunter says this is not a "whodunit" but his aim was to provide a picture of a police investigator building up his knowledge of a crime. Thankfully it is a fictional method as it is not recommended for real life. Gently worked alone, without sharing the information he gathered, and against the opinions of his boss and colleagues. Although Hunter's Gently is a nice enough bloke, actor Martin Shaw made him a a much more charismatic personality, which made a great TV series. As the first in the series this was just OK. ( )
  VivienneR | Feb 18, 2015 |
GENTLY DOES IT is the first of 48 novels to feature Inspector George Gently: a murder specialist from Central Office CID on holiday in Norchester for this novel. When he reads in the paper of the murder of a prominent local citizen he offers to help with the investigation. Initially his assistance is welcomed by the local constabulary but when it appears the case will be easily solved the locals are keen to remove Gently from proceedings. But Gently, believing in the innocence of the man local police suspect, refuses to be budged.

Perhaps low expectations are a good way to begin any reading experience because I did enjoy the book more than I thought I might, mostly due to the writing. Hunter, an antiquarian bookseller by trade, clearly loves language. Even his use of an adverb, and one not immediately associated with policing, for his protagonist’s surname indicates his love of wordplay. There’s a mild wit pervading the entire novel and the dialogue in particular is often delightful.

As far as introductions to a central character go however there’s something of a scarcity of information. We glean that he’s at least middle-aged, possibly older (in fact I would have thought much older if I hadn’t known there are so many books to come so perhaps he is one of those lucky fictional characters who don’t age at the same pace as the rest of us). He’s experienced and good at his job though quite modest, often attributing his deductive powers and sound reasoning to luck rather than the intelligence it so obviously is. But there is not a word about his personal life, other than a professed liking for fishing and an addiction to peppermint creams, or any details of the years that led to his present circumstances. With respect to looks Hunter gives us precious little to go on bar a throwaway remark that he’s not tall enough to enjoy the terraces at a football match so, inevitability, to me Inspector Gently looks a lot like Martin Shaw.

Via a Gentle Reminder To the Reader – which appears at the beginning of the novel – Alan Hunter tells us exactly what kind of story he thinks this is

This is a detective story, but not a ‘whodunnit’. Its aim is to give a picture of a police investigator slowly building up his knowledge of a crime to a point, not where he knows who did it – both you and he know that at a fairly early stage – but to a point where he can bring a charge which will convince a jury.

I thought it worth mentioning this. I hate being criticized for not doing what I had no intention of doing.

I might argue with him on whether or not it is a whodunnit (as the culprit is not revealed until about 3/4 of the way to the end) but even if it isn’t strictly a whodunnit you’d be hard-pressed to find a more traditional sort of mystery story. It closely follows the style of the Golden Age writers though I suppose it’s a bit too new to officially be classified as such. But other than the absence of a sidekick most of the conventions of the classic mystery are in evidence and well executed.

I don’t mind dabbling at the lighter/cosier end of the crime fiction spectrum (it was welcome in this instance as I’d read three or four particularly harrowing books in a row) but when I do I generally prefer there to be something in addition to the puzzling element of the stories. I follow one of Julie Hyzy’s series because of its setting amidst the goings-on of the White House kitchens for example. Alternatively I like re-visiting great characters who feel like old friends (M. Poirot springs to mind). But while Gently is likeable enough he’s not among the more memorable crime-fighting protagonists I’ve met and nor am I lured by yet another series set in Midsomer-like England.

I fear it’s damning with faint praise but I do think that if you like the classic British whodunnit-cum-procedural style of book then you could do a lot worse than GENTLY DOES IT. The writing is terrific and if it doesn’t leave you rolling on the floor with laughter you’ll at least have a smile on your face for a good portion of your reading time. A word of warning to fans of the TV series though: as far as I can see there is nothing other than the name of the main character that indicates one is the source material for the other though perhaps the later books have more in common with the series (which is set at least a decade or so later than this first novel).
  bsquaredinoz | Feb 7, 2015 |
I've just got to get some of those peppermint creams! Lovely book, good mystery and a wonderful detective. I'll be looking for more of these. ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
What a good read! Funny at times, well- and intelligently-written with interesting characters crowned by the particularly engaging George Gently.

I've watched the TV show and enjoyed it (no John Bacchus in this book, which is interesting. Was he added to "sex up" the TV series or will he appear in later books?), and am thrilled to find the books do the trick as well. ( )
  Vivl | Dec 3, 2013 |
This is the first of the George Gently series that was begun in 1955. Gently is a Scotland Yard police inspector from the East Anglia section of England who eventually becomes a Chief Superintendant. This case begins while Gently is on vacation and he gets involved in the murder of a mean old man. The local police force regret asking him to help because he won't let them settle for the easiest to catch and most likely suspect.

Gently quietly but surely teases out the truth from a tangle of lies while eating one pepper met cream after another.What these confections are exactly is unclear, but if he consumes several an hour I wonder that he has any teeth left in his head. Gently is portrayed as a large man who is past worrying about calories. Perhaps hHunter never realized at the time of Gently's debut that he would go on to feature in forty six Gently mysteries the last of which was published i 199. Hunter died in 2005.

There was also a BBC series featuring George Gently and it was after seeing an episode that I dug out my old Gentlys and picked up the birth of Gently. ( )
  Condorena | Apr 2, 2013 |
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Chief Inspector Gently, Central Office, CID, reached automatically into his pocket for another peppermint cream and fed it unconsciously into his mouth.
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When a timber merchant is found stabbed in Norchester, the local police find an obvious suspect in his son, a stunt rider in a circus. But Inspector Gently realises there is more to it than appears on the surface.

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