After a month or so of struggling to read I've finally managed to finish some of the books I'd started, and find the enthusiasm for more. It feels good to not only want to lose myself in a book again, but to find the concentration to do it.
The British Library's latest crime classics have certainly helped that process along. I think I'd sort of heard of Michael Gilbert before, the name certainly feels familiar, but I hadn't read him. He may be my favourite discovery from this series - and I have really loved some of the BL books. 'Death Has Deep Roots' is from relatively early in his writing career (1951), which if the bibliography on Wikipedia is correct seems to have kicked off in 1947.
'Death Has Deep Roots' starts at the beginning of a murder trial. Victoria Lamartine is accused of killing Major Eric Thoseby and disatisfied with the direction her original defence was taking has engaged a new team. With only a few days to go a desperate search for new evidence begins. A search that goes all the way back to France and the war time activities of Lamartine and Thoseby.
One of the things that makes this book so successful is that Gilbert is writing what he knows about - primarily the law (his profession), and the war. The feeling that what happens in court is more or less what would happen in court is compelling, but I found the war bits even more so.
The war might be over, but it's only 1951, it hasn't been over so very long and the scars are all still pretty fresh. Added to the network of men who were at school together, is a network of those who served together. The young solicitor, Nap, who heads off to France to gather information is convincing because it's easy to imagine that he's still as much soldier as he is solicitor, and that just maybe he misses some parts of his war work.
It also makes the various episodes of violence feel particularly threatening. They're not especially showy but there's no doubt that these characters hold the lives of others cheaply. A bit more death won't much matter to them.
The descriptions of life in the Loire under occupation are deliberately brutal too. They're used to remind the jury and other spectators in an English courtroom that the hardships of the blitz were quite different to those of running resistance under the nose of the gestapo. These are the details which give the plot credibility and in turn make this a particularly enjoyable thriller. Gilbert's humour also helps with that. It's very satisfying to know I've got two more waiting to be read.