When Nicholas Huysmann, Dutch immigrant, and timber merchant in the city of Norchester, is murdered, the immediate suspect is his son Peter. Father and son have been estranged for some time, but currently Peter is in town with the circus for the Easter Fair, and is known to have visited with, and argued with, his father.
Chief Inspector George Gently is in town too, on holiday, and by coincidence has just seen Peter Huysmann perform his Wall of Death act at the circus.
Just as Superintendent Walker of the Norchester City Police is thinking of asking Scotland Yard to send George Gently to assist him, Gently providentially walks into police station. Inspector Hansom, in charge of the investigation, resents Gently's intrusion, and the fact that he has to regard Gently as his superior officer.
There are times when Superintendent Walker regrets involving Gently in the investigation, because Gently believes in thorough investigation, with the case proved without doubt, and many times in this investigation, when both Walker and Hansom believe they are "done", Gently proves they aren't.
I decided to track GENTLY DOES IT down, because of the recent screening of some Gently programmes on Australian television. I wrote about the George Gently novels about 5 weeks ago. There's a YouTube video embedded in that post showing Martin Shaw as Gently.
There's also a list of the 47 Gently titles that Fantastic Fiction know about. They were published over a period of 45 years.
I'm happy to report that I really enjoyed GENTLY DOES IT, gave it a rating of 4.6, and will be looking for another.
A foreword titled A GENTLE REMINDER TO THE READER says
- This is a detective story, but NOT a 'whodunit'. Its aim is to give a picture of a police investigator slowly building up his knowledge of a crime to a point, not where he knows who did it - both you and he know that at a fairly early stage - but to a point where he can bring a charge which will convince the jury.
I thought it worth while mentioning this. I hate being criticized for not doing what I had no intention of doing.
First of all meeting a new detective. In the long run, I thought those who cast Martin Shaw got it pretty right. A man in his senior years, mandarin-like, solid build, quiet observer, with a passion for munching on peppermint creams. The latter does not appear in the television series. In GENTLY DOES IT he smokes a pipe almost incessantly, on the television, cigarettes.
I liked the tension between Hansom and Gently:
- The ash dropped off Hansom's cigar and fell neatly on to the blotter in front of him. He grabbed it away savagely. 'See here,' he snapped, 'I know you're dead against us. I know you'd go to any lengths to get young Huysmann off, even if you're as sure as we are that he did it. Because why? Because you're the Yard, and you think you've got to show us we're a lot of flat-footed yokels. That's why! That's why you're going to upset this - if you can. But you can't, Chief Inspector Gently, it's getting much too one-sided, even for you. By the time we've lined this case up there won't be a jury in the country who'll give it more than ten minutes - if they give it that!'
- 'There is between us, Inspector Hansom, a slight but operative difference in rank... And now, if you will start sending these people in, we'll try to question them as though we were part of one of the acknowledged civilizations.'
- Gently smiled into the window. 'There's so much we don't know', he said, 'it's like a picture out of focus...
It's taking shape a little bit, but it's full of blind spots and blurred outlines.'
- '... I am trying to find out things. I'm trying to find out what happened here yesterday and what led up to it, and how these people fit into it, and why they answered what they did answer this morning.'
Hansom said: 'We're not so ambitious. We're just knocking up a case of murder so it keeps the daylight out.'
'So am I....' Gently said, 'only I like walls around mine as well as a roof.'
- 'There's a time in every case that I've had anything to do with when you suddenly find yourself over the top of the hill... usually, there's no good reason for it. You just keep pushing and pushing, never seeming to get anywhere, and then some time you find you don't have to push any longer... the thing you've been pushing starts to carry you along with it. It's odd, isn't it?'
GENTLY DOES IT is the first in the series, so why not start there?