Michael Gilbert
#1  Pulpmeister 11-23-2019, 11:44 PM
Michael Gilbert (1912-2006)

In my glacially slow progress of thinning out my paper books I came across a small pile by Michael Gilbert.

They were all that is left of a somewhat larger pile, which originally looked a bit like this (relying on memory here, except for publication dates, which I have looked up):

Close Quarters 1947
The Doors Open 1949
Smallbone, Deceased 1950
Death has Deep Roots 1951
The Body of a Girl 1972
Death of a Favourite Girl 1980
The Long Way Home 1985
The Final Throw 1982
Death in Captivity 1952
The Crack in the Teacup 1966
The Black Seraphim 1983
The Etruscan Net 1969

All my books were picked up as second hand (often very second-hand) paperbacks over many years, and some must have been disposed of in various house moves.

Michael Gilbert was an interesting character as well as a very entertaining author. He started writing before WW2, served in the British Army, was a PoW in Italy, and after the war worked full time as a lawyer (solicitor) while turning out a startling volume of fiction. 30 novels; 14 volumes of short stories. And some non-fiction.

He lived in the deep fastness of rural Kent, took a commuting train to London each day, something like an hour and a half each way, and confined his writing to these daily journeys, giving him close to 3 hours a writing a day; as much as many full-time authors.

Among other things, he was Raymond Chandler's lawyer for British matters.

He had three series characters: (early years) Hazelrigg, a senior detective; (later years) Patrick Petrella, a cop who appeared in many stories; and a pair of genteel roughnecks in the form of Calder and Behrens, two harmless looking codgers who are in fact lethal secret service operatives, and who appeared in many short stories published in EQMM.

Most of his novels are stand-alone, such as "The Long Way Home", and "The Last Throw", and many hinge on (inevitably) matters of law, but never in a dense manner. In "The Final Throw", for example, motiviation stems from the one section of the then Companies Act which was a criminal offence, with a penalty of imprisonment.

"Death in Captivity" was inspired by his time in an Italian PoW camp on the Adriatic coast, and is a whoisit/whodunit, plus an escape.

Naturally his early novels, published soon after the War, have that conflict in the background, except "Close Quarters", which is explicitly set in 1937 (he wrote most of it in the late 30s it before joining the army.)

He has a rather dry, slightly cynical sense of humour which peeps out at you in his books, and his novels range from conventional whodunits to action thrillers and courtroom dramas. Some of his later novels are a long way from being "cosies", as "The Final Throw", and "The Body of a Girl", demonstrate. He was very good with short stories, as the many he sold tends to prove.

I was prompted to write this when I noticed that his titles are being reprinted in paperback, and the list includes many I had never heard of. Two volumes of Calder and Behrens short stories; two volumes of Petrella shorts; and titles like "Trouble", and "Heat and Dust", to name a few.

Highy recommended.

#2  BobC 11-24-2019, 06:09 AM
I came across the Petrella and Calders/Behrens stories in the "Argosy" magazine in the 1960s.

Always quite good reading. I must admit I had almost forgotten about them till now. Thanks for the reminder.


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