The name of Anthony Gilbert is not often mentioned in the blogosphere, but in her day she (yes! Gilbert was a pseudonym for Lucy Malleson) was a prolific and successful crime writer, most famous for her books featuring Arthur Crook. I read one of them a long time ago, but wasn’t hugely tempted to try another.
However, I’ve just read her memoir, Three-A-Penny, published in 1940 under one of her other pen-names, Anne Meredith, and found it very interesting, not least for her take on her initiation into the Detection Club. She was very different from many of her fellow members – the likes of E.C.Bentley, G.D.H.Cole, Ronald Knox and Dorothy L. Sayers were all Oxford-educated. Gilbert was educated in the good old university of life.
She writes well of her early life, and the financial hardship her family suffered. She left school and became a shorthand typist, but with a burning ambition to write. And before long, she succeeded. Her early crime novels were nothing special, but adopting the Gilbert name transformed her fortunes.
The merit of this memoir is such that it has tempted me to give her work another try. One person she did not mention in the book, perhaps surprisingly, was her cousin. This was Miles Malleson, the actor, still remembered as the hangman in Kind Hearts and Coronets.