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Death Has Deep Roots (1951)

by Michael Gilbert

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13111159,485 (3.88)21
"At the Central Criminal Court, an eager crowd awaits the trial of Victoria Lamartine, an active participant in the Resistance during the war. She is now employed at the Family Hotel in Soho, where Major Eric Thoseby has been found murdered. The cause of death? A stabbing reminiscent of techniques developed by the Maquisards. While the crime is committed in England, its roots are buried in a vividly depicted wartime France. Thoseby is believed to have fathered Lamartine's child, and the prosecution insist that his death is revenge for his abandonment of Lamartine and her arrest by the Gestapo. A last-minute change in Lamartine's defence counsel grants solicitor Nap Rumbold just eight days to prove her innocence, with the highest of stakes should he fail. The proceedings of the courtroom are interspersed with Rumbold's perilous quest for evidence, which is aided by his old wartime comrades."--Provided by publisher.… (more)
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The book started out great with a court room drama that was headed towards disaster as the defendant changed her legal advisors at the very last minute and her new barristers struggled for time to prepare a case that seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Thrilling stuff.
Unfortunately, once a little time is granted, the story changes into action mode, where we see threats, stabbings, and people digging up dirt from the past. Yep, this was so boring. I often had to flip back to a previous chapter to find out why we were where we were and what we were trying to accomplish. Seriously, this was not good.
What made the book worse was the ending. Just when I hoped we’d be able to get back to the sparkle of the first chapters, the book plunged into a diatribe on morality.
Now, I understand that this section reflected the mores of its time, or at least the mores of a certain strata middle-class England and – from what I have read – the English legal system at the time. However, as a reader I was not in the mood to put up with outright mysogyny and acceptance of double-standards that was portrayed in the story. What irked me most was that the social issues that were depicted could have been, and only a couple of decades later probably would have been!, picked up as part of the legal drama. But no. Instead of taking apart the bias toward the defendant instilled in both society inside and outside of the court room, Gilbert decided to present a pedestrian solution that seemed to have been pulled out of a hat. It was all very, very disappointing, especially because my first encounter with Gilbert’s work in [Smallbone Deceased] not long ago had me hope that Gilbert could be another author I would want to read more by. ( )
  BrokenTune | Sep 8, 2020 |
Great fun and a swiftly paced page turner so I gave it a high rating --for me--within its genre. A French woman is accused of murdering a British major, and the mystery centers on events in wartime France where the woman was a member of the resistance working with the British. The tale develops and the mystery is gradually solved as the author skips between the British courtroom trial and the adventures of the young lawyer sleuth seeking evidence in France. The characters were likeable and the courtroom proceedings interesting and entertaining while the structure of the story was solid. ( )
  amaraki | May 8, 2020 |
A Harper novel of suspense Orig. published serially as The trial of Victoria Lamartine ( )
  ME_Dictionary | Mar 20, 2020 |
This book is an excellent blend of whodunnit murder mystery, detective thriller and courtroom drama. The story is set in post WW2 years, but there's a backstory centres on events occurring in France during the German Occupation in the war. The language is not dated even though the book was written in 1951.

It begins with an accused killer changing her legal defence team on the eve of the beginning of her trial. Her previous team wanted her to plead guilty and throw herself n the mercy of the court. The suggestion is that they did not want to mount a vigorous defence out of either laziness or a lack of financial incentive. A new team comes in to prove that she's innocent.
The story opens literally on the courtroom steps and moves through the trial process. This process is presented in clear language with minimal arcane legal jargon. The barristers are seasoned and act professionally, no phoney rhetoric or histrionics.

Alternating with the court proceeding is the story of the detective work undertaken by a junior defence solicitor and a veteran British commando. The solicitor travels to France while the veteran stays in England. However, both face danger from people wanting to thwart their inquiries.
The author is good at building suspense. With the detectives, it's the tension of the thriller -- can they elude their pursuers? In the courtroom, it's a race against time to find the information to prove the defence case before the end of the trial.

All in all, it's a brilliant work of crime fiction: suspenseful, well-plotted and fast-paced with an ensemble cast of interesting characters. The description of post war rural France adds to the atmosphere in a meaningful way too. It's one of those books you want to read in one sitting.
The comprehensive Introduction written by Martin Edwards provides insight into the author and the book.

Recommended reading.

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for providing an advance reading copy of this eBook of the British Library Crime Classic edition. The comments about it are my own. ( )
  BrianEWilliams | Nov 20, 2019 |
Death Has Deep Roots is a one-of-a-kind mystery, or perhaps more accurately, it is a one-of-many-kinds mystery. It is a legal thriller, a murder mystery, and war/espionage thriller. When Major Thoseby is murdered at a hotel where he was to meet Victoria Lamartine who had been seeking his help several times in the past. She is found standing over his body and indicted for murder. Both the prosecution and the defense seek the deep roots of this murder.

The prosecution alleges Thoseby fathered her child who had recently died while she insists that a soldier who came in to support the French Resistance was the father. She was a Resistance fighter herself and was captured by the Gestapo herself. Nap Rumbold heads to France to find evidence on her behalf while his partners and father wage a brilliant legal defense, hoping to keep the case alive so Rumbold had time to find answers. Another is tasked to investigage Wells, to see if they can find answers in England as well.

I loved how well the many investigative and defense narratives were woven together. The story was effective and I was engrossed throughout. I am not sure I would call it “fair” in terms of meeting the Detection Club clues in that we do not get the full story that Rumbold gets from the French detectives, but on the other hand, we have the critical details to make the leap to recognize who must be guilty. I also think Lamartine was a relatively flat character, more a plot device than a person. The people working on her behalf were far more compelling.

I liked Death Has Deep Roots and hope to read more books in this series of books that are not dedicated to one particular hero, but which has a collection of recurring characters who are sometimes in the lead and sometimes purely secondary. If they match this one, it will be a great series of books.

I received an e-galley of Death Has Deep Roots from the publisher through NetGalley.

https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpress.com/2019/11/19/9781492699538/ ( )
  Tonstant.Weader | Nov 19, 2019 |
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"At the Central Criminal Court, an eager crowd awaits the trial of Victoria Lamartine, an active participant in the Resistance during the war. She is now employed at the Family Hotel in Soho, where Major Eric Thoseby has been found murdered. The cause of death? A stabbing reminiscent of techniques developed by the Maquisards. While the crime is committed in England, its roots are buried in a vividly depicted wartime France. Thoseby is believed to have fathered Lamartine's child, and the prosecution insist that his death is revenge for his abandonment of Lamartine and her arrest by the Gestapo. A last-minute change in Lamartine's defence counsel grants solicitor Nap Rumbold just eight days to prove her innocence, with the highest of stakes should he fail. The proceedings of the courtroom are interspersed with Rumbold's perilous quest for evidence, which is aided by his old wartime comrades."--Provided by publisher.

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