Author: Andrew Garve
Publication: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., hardcover, 1976
Setting: 20th century EnglandDescription: This is an understated mystery narrated by Walter Haines, who surprises himself by becoming a bestselling author. Having tried journalism and recognized he was not “tough and thrusting” enough to be an effective reporter, he took the painstaking research skills he had acquired and worked hard to become a mystery writer. While his books were weak on characterization, they were admired for their intricate plots. After one book unexpectedly became a bestseller, he met Laura, an attractive makeup artist, when he was interviewed by the BBC. Rousing himself from his usual diffidence, Walter pursues the relationship and they get married in six weeks. Laura is as outgoing as Walter is reserved but the marriage is initially successful, although Walter is very idiosyncratic and difficult to live with as he obliviously recounts.
A chance encounter at a cocktail party with Max Ryland, a popular actor, changes their lives. A friendship develops quickly and includes visits to Max’s country cottage and returned hospitality at their home in the London suburbs. Just as Walter suddenly wonders if something is wrong, Laura announces she is leaving him for Max. Walter is devastated but also astonished until Laura’s friend Muriel explains his condescending behavior has driven her away. Even after Max dumps her, there does not seem to be any hope Laura will return to him. Then Max is murdered, and Walter is the obvious suspect, although there are others who also had reason to hate the actor. My Impression: Like Walter, Andrew Garve (1908-2001) was a reporter early in his career before becoming a crime writer. I was surprised to learn he had written more than 45 books, using several pseudonyms. My parents used to read his books so when I saw that Home to Roost was published in 1976, I thought it would be ideal for the #1976Club, hosted by StuckinaBook and Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. However, my copy barely arrived in time for me to read it! Although it started slowly, the reader is clued in early to the tension in Walter’s marriage:
She realized she was fortunate to have these opportunities while I was slogging away at home, but I didn’t grudge her her pleasures – indeed, I told her I was glad she was being kept happy. The one thing that did worry me a little about her excursions was that she would always take the car instead of going in by underground. It was true that she had been driving for years with only an occasional minor incident, but she always seemed to me to lack road sense , and I was never wholly at ease in my mind until she returned. When we were in the car together, I always took the wheel, as a matter of course. I knew that if she drove, I’d be tense, with hands gripping the seat arms and feet pressed down on the floor. When I drove, I was relaxed, and so was she. So obviously it was the sensible arrangement.Walter is not a very likable character but I couldn’t figure out whether Laura had married him for his money or whether she really cared about him until his domineering ways made her completely miserable. Either way, the story is extremely well done as Garve reveals the erosion of the marriage and Laura’s friend Muriel tells Walter exactly what he did to drive Laura away. Surprisingly, Walter recognizes his mistakes and tries to change his personality and behavior. Obviously, the title is significant. When chickens come home to roost, it means the consequences of previous acts have caught up with the wrongdoer. Garve allows us to guess who the wrongdoer is but leaves the ending ambiguous. A great character who appears mid-book is the police detective who investigates Max’s murder. This was an enjoyable and fast read.
So as not to be influenced, I only read the first few sentences of my friend Tracy's review of Home to Roost, over at Bitter Tea and Mystery until I'd finished the book. Kate Jackson suggested this book would be a good choice for the 1976Club and her review is here. I will have to ask my mother if she remembers this one. The only book I seem to own is Riddle of Samson: "If a man spends a night on an uninhabited island with another man's beautiful wife, the husband is not apt to be pleased about it." I wonder whether Garve came up with his titles or got help from his editor. They are unusual. One of my least favorite activities when I worked in publishing was participating in meetings where my colleagues argued about titles. Sometimes they were too generic but I liked the literary or quirky ones.
This is my twenty-sixth book in the Cloak and Dagger Challenge hosted at Carol's Notebook. Crowell, Garve's US publisher, was a very reputable house and was the original publisher of the Betsy-Tacy and Beany Malone books. It got absorbed in 1978 by what is now Harper Collins.