Michael Gilbert’s Death Has Deep Roots (1951) 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, where misogyny was half-wrapped up in what was meant to be charming yet patronising comments.
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 sexism 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. There was no real process I could follow to come up with that solution. And I guess there was another throw-away comment about the culprits at the end that were again of their time but that just didn’t work for me.
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.