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‘absorbing second mystery . . . stunning resolution.’ [Stage Fright]

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The pleasure of rereading Michael Gilbert’s crime novels

UnknownThere are times when I just don’t have the energy to tackle something new, and a return to old favourites is exactly what I need. Michael Gilbert is fitting the bill at the moment. To read his novels is to take a masterclass in crime fiction. He wrote a lot: over 400 short stories and around three dozen novels, as well as radio and TV plays. He wrote almost every type of crime novel: police procedurals, classic whodunits, thrillers. To all of them he brought a superb sense of pace, tight plotting and a dry sense of humour. What’s more he had a day job as a lawyer and wrote as he commuted into London. He was a founder member of the CWA. Rather wonderfully, he was Raymond Chandler’s UK lawyer. Rather less wonderfully he went to the same school as my husband, some considerable time before.

If he specialised in anything it might have been the one-honest-man-brings-down-corrupt-organisation plot. In The Crack in the Teacup, a small-town solicitor comes up against local government corruption. In The Long Journey Home it is an engineer who crosses swords with a corrupt international company in league with the Mafia. Of this sub genre I particularly like The Final Throw: corrupt financial empire brought down by – well, I’d better not disclose by whom in case you haven’t read it. Of the classic whodunits, The Black Seraphim, set in a cathedral close (a setting I plan to use myself one day) and the splendid Smallbone Deceased (set in a lawyers’ office in which a body is found in a deed box) are particular favourites.

Gilbert had a long career and died in 2006 aged 93. I bet he was great company and I am sorry I never met him.

13 Comments

  1. tracybham
    March 15, 2015

    I have only read one of his books (The Danger Within AKA Death in Captivity) which has convinced me to try more, and I have a few on my bookshelves. I was surprised, I have three that you mentioned above. Looking forward to them.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      March 16, 2015

      A treat in store . . . Death in Captivity was such a good idea. Gilbert was in a prisoner-of-war camp himself.

      Reply
  2. Moira, Clothes in Books
    March 15, 2015

    I didn’t know he’d written quite that much! I really enjoy his books, Smallbone & Close Quarters particularly. And of course Night of the Twelfth, which you put me onto recently – a real humdinger, and one I keep thinking about since I finished it.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      March 16, 2015

      He is such a good story-teller. I know you’d love The Black Seraphim.

      Reply
  3. Lyn
    March 16, 2015

    I really enjoyed Smallbone Deceased, which I read years ago. Black Seraphim sounds like my kind of mystery so I’ll look out for it.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      March 17, 2015

      I do think you’d like it, Lyn. There are lots of cheap second-hand copies around and it’s also available as an ebook.

      Reply
  4. Susan D
    March 17, 2015

    I just reserved Smallbone at the Toronto Public Library. There’s only 1 copy in circulation — and 2 reserves ahead of me. Coincidence?

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      March 17, 2015

      I am quite surprised that there is even one, given how old it is. I have a ancient paperback and will be embarking on it again soon.

      Reply
  5. Martin Edwards
    March 25, 2015

    I’m a lifelong fan of Gilbert, and share your love of his writing. Thanks for mentioning The Crack in the Teacup, one of his most under-rated books. I was lucky enough to talk to him and also to correspond with him. He was, as one might guess from his writing, charming, decent, and generous.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      March 26, 2015

      Lovely to hear from you, Martin. That is just how I would have expected him to be and it is heartening when that is the case. Just reread The Crack in the Teacup: who would have thought that local government and planning regulations could be so fascinating?

      Reply
      • Martin Edwards
        March 26, 2015

        That was a mark of his skill, wasn’t it? I read it long before becoming a solicitor, and at least he didn’t put me off!

        Reply
        • Christine Poulson
          March 26, 2015

          It must be nice to read a book where a lawyer is the hero!

          Reply
          • Martin Edwards
            March 26, 2015

            Absolutely, and perhaps it was a background inspiration for the emergence of Harry Devlin many years later!

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