Hunter, Alan - 'Gently with the Ladies'
Following on from the success of the Inspector George Gently BBC series starring Martin Shaw, Robinson is reissuing the original books written by Alan Hunter between 1955 and 1998. Fifteen of the 42 Gently novels have been released to date. GENTLY WITH THE LADIES is the thirteenth, originally published in 1965.
John Fazakerly, a man suspected of killing his wife Clytie in their luxury flat in Chelsea, hands himself in to George Gently at the Yard. It's not Gently's case, but Fazakerly is a distant relative and throws himself on the Chief Inspector's mercy.
The case against Fazakerly is convincing. He admits to a range of motives for killing Clytie: he has been having an affair with a woman called Sarah, whilst Clytie has been having a Lesbian (note the authentically '60s capital L) affair with Sybil Bannister, their downstairs neighbour, and he is a career scrounger who depends on Clytie's money. Even more incriminating, his finger-prints are all over the murder weapon, a silver belaying pin. Finally, he has been mysteriously absent, apparently at sea on his yacht, ever since the murder. Gently does not believe Fazakerly is innocent and hands him over to Q Division, asking for a short delay so that he can tell their mutual relatives he looked into the case personally.
Then doubt creeps in: the prints on the murder weapon are only partial; the killer was right-handed but Fazakerly a leftie; and the belaying pin was the least likely of several potential weapons in the flat. Gently begins to investigate in earnest.
Gently deserves a medal for his witnesses, who are as histrionic a bunch as I have encountered in a while. Take prime suspect Fazakerly, a study in self-pity:
"I'm a bum, I've said it before. I've got the motives of a bum. The only decent thing left in me is down that river, out at sea. When I'm alone there, then I'm decent, I can look the sun in the face. But I'm a bum the rest of the time: a lousy bum: but not a murderer."
Or femme fatale Brenda Merryn:
"You've got the key to me in your hands and you just won't turn the lock. In your hands... Give it a turn and see what happens. Give it two turns, one for luck. I have such a simple combination."
The Chief Inspector takes them all in his stride and finally brings them all together in a traditional all-the-suspects-in-one-room ending.
The ladies of GENTLY WITH THE LADIES are lesbians, or rather Lesbians. I felt that Hunter was trying hard to give a balanced view of what must have still been a taboo subject, but got the sense he was well out of his comfort zone. It all seems rather earnest and over-thought:
"There's a dormant slant that way in all women and a lot of us give it a try. It has an advantage men rarely think of, namely that it doesn't get you into trouble. There are also a few emotional bonuses which go with the shedding of inhibitions, a feeling of biological emancipation, of being on a footing with the male."
I didn't really have much of a feel for Gently by the end, and the suspects are all a bit cartoonish, but this is a quick and undemanding mystery read, not too weighed down with superfluous details or spiralling sub-plots. It is very unlike the TV series, but none the worse for that.
Reading it, I was reminded how convenient paperbacks were before these days of burgeoning page-count. This fitted into my jacket pocket, and was read in a few hours. I'd read another.
Rich Westwood, England
last updated 1/12/2012 20:39