Book Review: The Jail Gates Are Open by David Hume
Cardby and Son is a detective firm comprised of ex-Chief Inspector Cardby (late of Scotland Yard) and his son Mick. They’ve been engaged by a consortium of banks to discover where a recent flood of “slush”, counterfeit money, is coming from. Nick realizes that one way of tracking down forgers is to consult an expert. As it happens, a former forger of note is being released from Dartmoor Prison, and owes the Inspector a favor.
While on his way to pick up the soon to be ex-convict, Mick runs into (nearly literally) a man named Milsom Crosby. Mr. Crosby is a wealthy man who interests himself in the rehabilitation of criminals, especially those who have committed particularly brutal or violent crimes. He’s at Dartmoor to pick up Bonny Slater, a hard man who’d done time for assaulting a police officer. Mick is intrigued, but has other business to attend to.
Back in London, Cardby and Son soon have a new client, a Mr. Carter. It seems his son Kendrick had served a term for bank robbery and recently been released, but failed to come home. His only communication has been a letter saying that he was under the care of…Milsom Crosby. When the father tried to visit, he was told that Kendrick was on holiday in south France, but he smells a rat.
Shortly thereafter, a beautiful woman tries to engage the firm for a lengthy but lucrative embezzlement investigation in Barcelona. The Cardbys point out that this would be better accomplished by a forensic accountant that speaks Spanish, and she is forced to reveal that she is Iris Crosby, and the person she’s speaking on behalf of is her father, Milsom Crosby!
This is a thriller, rather than a mystery, and it’s soon obvious that Milsom Crosby is behind the counterfeiting ring and sundry other crimes. But this cunning criminal mastermind will stop at nothing to punish those that get in his way–can Cardby and Son save their beloved wife and mother, let alone themselves?
This 1935 novel is part of the Tired Business Man’s Library, published by D. Appleton-Century Company, and “David Hume” appears to be a pen name (certainly not the famous philosopher!) There’s a prologue in which the author explains some of the British criminal slang that is used in the book for “authenticity.”
Mick Cardby is very much the protagonist of the story, a young clean-cut fellow who’s athletic, clever and formidable. We don’t get any background on him except that he has worked with his father in the firm for some years to great success. His father, as noted above, retired from Scotland Yard, and his old partner Chief Inspector Gribble (a hardened pessimist) is scheduled to join the firm on his own pending retirement. Both of them, and the various other policemen who show up, are primarily extra hands when Mick is outnumbered or busy doing something that needs concentration.
Milsom Crosby is a clear forerunner of the Bond villain–wealthy, powerful, a veneer of respectability, but a tendency to gloat and not quite as clever as he thinks. Genre-savvy readers will see his repeatedly taking the choice that will least accomplish the goal of deterring the Cardbys and shake their heads.
As is sadly common in adventure fiction of the period, women’s roles are limited. Mrs. Cardby is taken hostage, rescued and otherwise not in the story at all (she has zero knowledge of or interest in her husband and son’s business other than fretting). An engraver’s pretty daughter, taken hostage to ensure his cooperation with the counterfeiters, is only marginally more useful and mostly serves as a mild romantic interest for Mick.
And then there’s Iris Crosby, who tries to act the femme fatale but is easily thwarted by locking her in a room. There’s a couple of nasty twists involving her in the final chapter, just so Mick can drive home how completely she’s failed.
Mick is pretty callous about usng violence, and sheds not a tear for a man he sends to his death (even cutting a deal with his murderer later on!) He’s also willing to use a veiled homophobic slur, Mr. Crosby being quick to take offense at it being directed at him.
This book doesn’t seem to ever have been reprinted, so your chances of finding it outside of hole-in-the-wall used bookstores are slim. Still, it’s a fun read suitable for unwinding after a long day at work.