This week’s review is a fine English village mystery by Michael Gilbert, set in the 1950s when the memories of the war had receded but not gone, and the country had recovered economic stability. The stand-alone story was published in the United States as The Country-House Burglar (Harper, 1955) and issued as Sky High in England by Hodder & Stoughton in the same year. My rant against the aggravating practice of giving multiple titles to the same book can be taken for granted.
Brimberley is a quiet country village somewhere south of London but well within commuting range, we’re told, as Tim Artside takes the train up to London every day for a job he doesn’t discuss with his mother Liz. After the excitement of service during the war Liz is a little afraid her son has had trouble settling into a routine. Other than her worries about Tim, Liz is quite content to manage the choir of the local parish and to visit with her friends, many of them retired military officers who knew her husband.
Trouble arises when the vicar reports that the church poor box has been rifled, to the tune of about two pounds (about 53 pounds in 2020). Liz is alarmed when one of her choir members is accused on what she considers the thinnest of evidence. Then a series of country house burglaries spreads into territory closer to Brimberley, giving the local police a lot to think about. Worst of all, a house down the street explodes, killing the sole resident, a Major Macmorris who settled there after the war. After the police learn that Tim’s combat specialty was explosives, they were most interested in the fact he’d argued with Macmorris shortly before the explosion.
Lots of misdirection, a romance, and questions about identity, something that seems to be common in post-war mysteries. A comfortable and satisfying Golden Age read.