Michael Gilbert (1912-2006)

146739 (1)Born in Lincolnshire, England, Michael Francis Gilbert graduated in law from the University of London in 1937, shortly after which he first spent some time teaching at a prep-school which was followed by six years serving with the Royal Horse Artillery. During World War II he was captured following service in North Africa and Italy, and his prisoner-of-war experiences later leading to the writing of the acclaimed novel ‘Death in Captivity’ in 1952.

After the war, Gilbert worked as a solicitor in London, but his writing continued throughout his legal career and in addition to novels he wrote stage plays and scripts for radio and television. He is, however, best remembered for his novels, which have been described as witty and meticulously-plotted espionage and police procedural thrillers, but which exemplify realism.

HRF Keating stated that Smallbone Deceased was amongst the 100 best crime and mystery books ever published. “The plot,” wrote Keating, “is in every way as good as those of Agatha Christie at her best: as neatly dovetailed, as inherently complex yet retaining a decent credibility, and as full of cunningly-suggested red herrings.” It featured Chief Inspector Hazlerigg, who went on to appear in later novels and short stories, and another series was built around Patrick Petrella, a London based police constable (later promoted) who was fluent in four languages and had a love for both poetry and fine wine. Other memorable characters around which Gilbert built stories included Calder and Behrens. They are elderly but quite amiable agents, who are nonetheless ruthless and prepared to take on tasks too much at the dirty end of the business for their younger colleagues. They are brought out of retirement periodically upon receiving a bank statement containing a code.

Much of Michael Gilbert’s writing was done on the train as he travelled from home to his office in London: “I always take a latish train to work,” he explained in 1980, “and, of course, I go first class. I have no trouble in writing because I prepare a thorough synopsis beforehand.”. After retirement from the law, however, he nevertheless continued and also reviewed for ‘The Daily Telegraph’, as well as editing ‘The Oxford Book of Legal Anecdotes’.

Gilbert was appointed CBE in 1980. Generally regarded as ‘one of the elder statesmen of the British crime writing fraternity, he was a founder-member of the British Crime Writers’ Association and in 1988 he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, before receiving the Lifetime ‘Anthony’ Achievement award at the 1990 Boucheron in London.

Michael Gilbert died in 2006, aged ninety three, and was survived by his wife and their two sons and five daughters. (Source: Goodreads)

Mystery Novels: Close Quarters (1947); They Never Looked Inside aka He Didn’t Mind Danger (1948); The Doors Open (1949); Smallbone Deceased (1950); Death Has Deep Roots (1951); Death in Captivity aka The Danger Within (1952); Fear to Tread (1953); Sky High aka The Country-House Burglar(1955); Be Shot for Sixpence [Serialised in US newspapers as High Spy] (1956); Blood and Judgement (1959); After the Fine Weather (1963); The Crack in the Teacup (1966); The Dust and the Heat aka Overdrive (1967); The Etruscan Net aka The Family Tomb (1969); The Body of a Girl (1972); The Ninety-second Tiger (1973); Flash Point (1974); The Night of the Twelfth (1976); The Empty House (1978); Death of a Favourite Girl  aka The Killing of Katie Steelstock (1980); The Final Throw aka U.S. End-Game (1982); The Black Seraphim (1983); The Long Journey Home (1985); Trouble (1987); Paint, Gold and Blood (1989); The Queen Against Karl Mullen (1991); Roller-Coaster (1993); Ring of Terror (1995); Into Battle (1997); and Over and Out (1998).

Further reading:

A brief look at Michael Gilbert by the late Noah Stewart

A Tribute to Michael Gilbert (1912-2006) by Martin Edwards

Michael Gilbert Obituary at The Telegraph

Michael Gilbert obituary, The Guardian


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Hodder & Stoughton (UK), 1947)

Although it was first published in 1947, Gilbert began this novel in the years immediately before World War II and didn’t finish it until he returned from active duty. Set behind the walls of the residential Close of Melchester Cathedral, it’s a classic British mystery in which a young Scotland Yard detective is asked to interrupt his holiday to find out if the accidental death of Canon Whyte was indeed an accident. (Source: Rue Morgue Press)

Close Quarters is the first novel by the British mystery writer Michael Gilbert. Published in England by Hodder and Stoughton in 1947, it did not appear in the United States until 1963. By then Gilbert’s reputation had been firmly established in both countries and his regular American publisher for many years had been Harper & Brothers. Close Quarters, however, was published by Walker and Company, a less prestigious house. In it we are introduced to Chief Inspector Hazlerigg, who will go on to be a recurring character in a number of Gilbert’s works throughout the next ten years. (Source: Wikipedia).

And Martin Edwards commented on Close Quarters: ‘Conceived in the spirit of Golden Age mystery writing, and still an agreeable read today, this whodunit was set in a fictitious Cathedral close.

My Book Notes: Smallbone Deceased, 1950 by Michael Gilbert

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

The British Library, 2019. Format: Kindle Edition, with an introduction by Martin Edwards. File Size: 5145 KB. Print Length: 234 pages. ASIN: B07N1QJJ2C. eISBN: 978-0-7123-6469-0 . Originally published in 1950 by Hodder & Stoughton, London and in the United States by Harper & Brothers.

9781464211713-300RGB-350x525Opening Paragraph: “The thoughts of all present tonight,” said Mr. Birley, “will naturally turn first to the great personal loss–the very great personal loos–so recently suffered by the firm, by the legal profession and, if I may venture to say so without contradiction, by the British public.”

Synopsis: Horniman, Birley and Craine is a highly respected legal firm with clients drawn from the highest in the land. When a deed box in the office is opened to reveal a corpse, the threat of scandal promises to wreak havoc on the firm’s reputation—especially as the murder looks like an inside job. The partners and staff of the firm keep a watchful and suspicious eye on their colleagues, as Inspector Hazlerigg sets out to solve the mystery of who Mr. Smallbone was—and why he had to die. Written with style, pace, and wit, this is a masterpiece by one of the finest writers of traditional British crime novels since the Second World War.

My take: In Martin Edwards’ introduction, we come to know that Smallbone Deceased is Michael Gilbert’s fourth novel, and the first in which he drew extensively on his first-hand knowledge of life inside a London law firm. The story, like in Gilbert’s three previous novels, features Chief Inspector Hazlerigg as leading investigator and, in this occasion, he will count with the unofficial cooperation of a young solicitor named Henry Bohun, who had just been hired by Horniman, Birley and Craine, of LIncoln’s Inn. The story revolves around the discovery of a corpse found packed into one of the locked deed boxes of that highly respected law firm. The corpse turns out to be a certain Marcus Smallbone whose whereabouts were unknown to that date. Smallbone, a trustee for one of the firm’s largest affairs – the Ichabod Stokes Trust, could have died six weeks ago–possibly eight–maybe ten. And, together with the late Abel Horniman, the founder and senior partner of the firm, were the only two trustees of the said Trust. Abel Horniman had died four weeks ago and the situation is such that right now the Trust lacks any appointed trustee. Besides, Smallbone’s body was found in the box that should contain the past records of the Ichabod Stokes Trust and its content has disappeared. Inspector Hazlerigg takes charge of the investigation and he soon realises it must have been an inside job. Therefore, he might need count on the assistance of someone within the firm.

I enjoyed reading Smallbone Deceased and I fully agree with my friend blogger Bernadette Bean, who died prematurely on 17 February 2018, when she wrote in her review: “Smallbone Deceased is a fabulous example of the classic detective novel: a plot full of surprises and red herrings, sharp-witted investigators and a satisfying resolution.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. It can be highlighted as well the author’s in-depth knowledge of the setting in which the novel unfolds. Highly recommended.

My rating: A (I loved it)

About the author: Michael Francis Gilbert was a British lawyer and author of crime fiction mysteries. Born on 17 July 1912 in Billingshay, Lincolnshire, England, he attended St. Peters school in Seaford, East Sussex and Blundell’s School in Tiverton, Devon. He went to London University to study law but was unable to finish due to financial concerns. After becoming a schoolmaster for Cathedral School in the Close at Salisbury, Gilbert returned to studying law, receiving his degree in 1937 and graduating with honours. It was at this time that he began to work on his first mystery novel, Close Quarters. When Britain became involved in World War II, Gilbert joined the Honourable Artillery Company, serving in North Africa and Italy. In 1943, he was captured and taken as a prisoner of war in northern Italy near Parma. Along with another soldier, he was able to escape after the Italian surrender, with their escape involving a five-hundred-mile journey south to reach the Allied lines. In 1947, Gilbert joined the London law firm of Trower, Still & Keeling in Lincoln’s Inn. Eventually becoming a partner there, he practised law with the group until his retirement in 1983.Gilbert’s writing career spanned the years 1947 to 1999 with his final work being Over and Out. The genres his fiction novels enveloped included police procedurals, spy novels, short stories, courtroom dramas, classical mysteries, adventure thrillers, and crime novels. In 1980, Gilbert was made a C.B.E. (Commander, Order of the British Empire). Gilbert was a founding member of the British Crime Writers Association, and in 1988 he was named a “grandmaster” by the Mystery Writers of America. Other honours include receiving a Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers Association for lifetime achievement in 1994. One of Gilbert’s earliest works, Smallbone Deceased, was included in crime-writer H.R.F. Keating’s list, Crime & Mystery: The 100 Best Books, and it was ranked 64th in The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time, published in 1990 by the British-based Crime Writers’ Association. Five years later, it was ranked 80th in The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time, published by the Mystery Writers of America. Other of his books, recently re-published by The British Library, include: Death Has
Deep Roots
(1951) and Death in Captivity (1952). Gilbert married Roberta Mary Marsden in 1947, together the couple had two sons and five daughters. Gilbert died at age 93 on 8 February 2006 at his home in Luddesdown, Gravesend, Kent. He was survived by Roberta, his wife of nearly sixty years, and all of their children.

Smallbone Deceased has been reviewed at crossexaminingcrime, Past Offences, Bitter Tea and Mystery, Pretty Sinister Books, Clothes in Books, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ Northern Reader, Classic Mysteries, The Book Decoder and FictionFan’s Book Reviews among others.

British Library publicity page

Poisoned Pen publicity page


A Tribute to Michael Gilbert (1912-2006) by Martin Edwards 

A brief look at Michael Gilbert

Michael Gilbert Obituary at The Telegraph

Michael Gilbert obituary, The Guardian

Smallbone Deceased (El finado Smallbone) de Michael Gilbert

Primer párrafo: “Los pensamientos de todos los presentes esta noche”, dijo el Sr. Birley, “naturalmente deberán primero dirigirse a la gran pérdida personal, la inmensa pérdida personal, sufrida recientemente por el despacho, por la profesión jurídica, y, si me atrevo a decirlo sin contradicciones, por el público británico en general”.

Sinopsis: Horniman, Birley y Craine es un despacho de abogados muy reconocido con clientes provenientes de las más altas esferas del país. Cuando al abrir una caja de documentos en el despacho se descubre un cadaver, el riesgo de un escándalo amenaza con causar estragos en la reputación de la firma, particularmente porque el asesinato parece ser un trabajo interno. Los socios y el personal del despacho mantienen una mirada vigilante y sospechosa sobre sus colegas, mientras el Inspector Hazlerigg se dispone a resolver el misterio de quién era el Sr. Smallbone y por qué tuvo que morir. Escrita con estilo, ritmo e ingenio, se trata de una obra maestra de uno de los mejores escritores de novelas policias británicas clásicas desde la Segunda Guerra Mundial.

Mi opinión: En la introducción de Martin Edwards, llegamos a saber que Smallbone Deceased es la cuarta novela de Michael Gilbert y la primera en la que utilizó su conocimiento directo de la vida dentro de un bufete de abogados de Londres. La historia, como en las tres novelas anteriores de Gilbert, presenta al inspector jefe Hazlerigg como investigador principal y, en esta ocasión, contará con la cooperación no oficial de un joven abogado llamado Henry Bohun, que acababa de ser contratado por Horniman, Birley y Craine de Lincoln’s Inn. La historia gira en torno al descubrimiento de un cadáver hallado empaquetado en una de las cajas de escrituras de esa firma de abogados altamente respetada. El cadáver resulta ser un tal Marcus Smallbone cuyo paradero era desconocido hasta esa fecha. Smallbone, administrador de uno de los asuntos más importantes de la empresa, el Ichabod Stokes Trust, podría haber muerto hace seis semanas, posiblemente ocho, quizás diez. Y, junto con el fallecido Abel Horniman, fundador y socio principal de la firma, eran los dos únicos administradores de dicho Trust (Fideicomiso). Abel Horniman había muerto hace cuatro semanas y la situación es tal que en este momento el Trust no cuenta con ningún administrador designado. Además, se encontró el cuerpo de Smallbone en la caja que debería contener los registros anteriores del Ichabod Stokes Trust y su contenido ha desaparecido. El inspector Hazlerigg se encarga de la investigación y pronto se da cuenta de que debe haber sido un trabajo interno. Por lo tanto, podría necesitar contar con la ayuda de alguien dentro de la firma.

Disfruté leyendo Smallbone Deceased y estoy totalmente de acuerdo con mi amiga bloguera Bernadette Bean, quien falleció prematuramente el 17 de febrero de 2018, cuando escribió en su reseña: “Smallbone Deceased es un ejemplo fabuloso de una novela policíaca clásica: una trama llena de sorpresas y pistas falsas, ingeniosos investigadores y una resolución satisfactoria.” Yo no podría haberlo dicho mejor. También puede destacarse el profundo conocimiento que tiene el autor del entorno en el que se desarrolla la novela. Muy recomendable

Mi valoración: A (Me encantó)

Sobre el autor: Michael Francis Gilbert fue un abogado británico y autor de novelas de misterio y policiacas. Nacido el 17 de julio de 1912 en Billingshay, Lincolnshire, Inglaterra, asistió a la escuela St. Peters en Seaford, East Sussex y Blundell’s School en Tiverton, Devon. Fue a la Universidad de Londres a estudiar derecho, pero no pudo terminar por problemas financieros. Tras ejercer como maestro en Cathedral School in the Close en Salisbury, Gilbert volvió a estudiar derecho, obtuvo su título en 1937 y se graduó con honores. Fue en este momento cuando comenzó a trabajar en su primera novela de misterio, Close Quarters. Cuando Gran Bretaña se involucró en la Segunda Guerra Mundial, Gilbert se unió a la Honorable Artillery Company, sirviendo en el norte de África e Italia. En 1943, fue capturado y tomado prisionero de guerra en el norte de Italia, cerca de Parma. Junto con otro soldado, pudo escapar después de la rendición italiana, su fuga supuso un viaje de quinientas millas al sur hasta alacanzar las líneas aliadas. En 1947, Gilbert se unió al bufete de abogados de Londres Trower, Still & Keeling en Lincoln’s Inn. Con el tiempo se convirtió en socio, ejerció la abogacía con la firma hasta su jubilación en 1983. Su carrera como escritor se extnedió de 1947 a 1999 y su última obra fue Over and Out. Los géneros que abarcó en sus novelas comprenden procedimientos policiales, novelas de espías, relatos, dramas judiciales, misterios clásicos, novelas de suspense y de aventuras y novelas policiacas. En 1980, se le otorgó la distinción de Comendador de la Orden del Imperio Británico, (C.B.E.). Gilbert fue uno de los miembros fundadores de la Asociación Británica de Escritores de Crímenes (Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association), y en 1988 fue nombrado “gran maestro” por la Asociación de Escritores de Misterio de Estados Unidos (Mystery Writers of America). Otros honores incluyen recibir la Daga de Diamantes de la Asociación Británica de Escritores de Crímenes por toda su carrera en 1994. Una de sus primeras obras, Smallbone Deceased, fue incluida en la lista del escritor HRF Keating, Los 100 Mejores Libros de Crimen y Misterio, y ocupó el puesto 64 en la lista de las 100 mejores novelas sobre crímenes de todos los tiempos, publicada en 1990 por la Asociación Británica de Escritores de Crímenes. Cinco años más tarde, ocupó el puesto 80 en Las 100 mejores novelas de misterio de todos los tiempos, publicada por la Asociación de Escritores de Misterio de Estados Unidos. Otros de sus libros, recientemente publicados por The British Library, incluyen: Death Has Deep Roots (1951) y Death in Captivity (1952). Gilbert se casó con Roberta Mary Marsden en 1947 y tuvieron dos hijos y cinco hijas. Gilbert murió a los 93 años el 8 de febrero de 2006 en su casa de Luddesdown, Gravesend, Kent. Le sobrevivió Roberta, su mujer de cerca de sesenta años, y todos sus hijos.

The Justice Game

Martin Edwards , in his excellent The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, devotes Chapter 15 to ‘The Justice Game’ where he examines the following books:

Trial an Error, 1937 by Anthony Berkeley (Arcturus, 2013)

19028568Synopsis: Non-descript, upstanding Mr Todhunter is told that he has only months to live. He decides to commit a murder for the good of mankind. Finding a worthy victim proves far from easy, and there is a false start before he settles on and dispatches his target. But then the police arrest an innocent man, and the honourable Todhunter has to set about proving himself guilty of the murder. Beautifully presented with striking artwork and stylish yet easy-to-read type, avid readers of crime will love reading this gripping, well-written thriller. The appetite for traditional crime fiction has never been stronger, and Arcturus Crime Classics aim to introduce a new generation of readers to some of the great crime writing of the 20th century – especially the so-called ‘golden era’.

About the Author: Anthony Berkeley Cox (1893 – 1971) aka Francis Iles, A Monmouth Platts. A journalist as well as a novelist, Anthony Berkeley was a founding member of the Detection Club and one of crime fiction’s greatest innovators. He was one of the first to predict the development of the ‘psychological’ crime novel and he sometimes wrote under the pseudonym of Francis Iles. He wrote twenty-four novels, ten of which feature his amateur detective, Roger Sheringham.

Verdict of Twelve, 1940 by Raymond Postgate (British Library Publishing, 2017)

32602747._SX318_Synopsis: A woman is on trial for her life, accused of murder. The twelve members of the jury each carry their own secret burden of guilt and prejudice which could affect the outcome. In this extraordinary crime novel, we follow the trial through the eyes of the jurors as they hear the evidence and try to reach a unanimous verdict. Will they find the defendant guilty, or not guilty? And will the jurors’ decision be the correct one? Since its first publication in 1940, Verdict of Twelve has been widely hailed as a classic of British crime writing. This edition offers a new generation of readers the chance to find out why so many leading commentators have admired the novel for so long.

About the Author: Raymond Postgate (1896 – 1971) was born in Cambridge, the eldest son of the classical scholar Professor J.P. Postgate. He was educated at St. John’s College, Oxford. During the First World War he was a conscientious objector and was jailed for two weeks in 1916. He married Daisy Lansbury, the daughter of George Lansbury, pacifist and leader of the Labour Party. His career in journalism started in 1918 and he worked for several Left-wing periodicals. He was also Departmental Editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica for its 1929 edition.

Tragedy at Law, 1942 by Cyril Hare (Faber & Faber, 2011)

51n-SBMe9fLSynopsis: Tragedy at Law follows a rather self-important High Court judge, Mr Justice Barber, as he moves from town to town presiding over cases in the Southern England circuit. When an anonymous letter arrives for Barber, warning of imminent revenge, he dismisses it as the work of a harmless lunatic. But then a second letter appears, followed by a poisoned box of the judge’s favourite chocolates, and he begins to fear for his life. Enter barrister and amateur detective Francis Pettigrew, a man who was once in love with Barber’s wife and has never quite succeeded in his profession – can he find out who is threatening Barber before it is too late?

About the Author: Cyril Hare was the pseudonym of Judge Gordon Clark (1900 – 1958) . Born at Mickleham near Dorking, he was educated at Rugby and New College, Oxford. At the bar his practice was largely in the criminal courts. During the Second World War he was on the staff of the Director of Public Prosecutions; but later, as a County Court judge, his work concerned civil disputes only – and his sole connection with crime was through his fiction. He turned to writing detective stories at the age of thirty-six and some of his first short stories were published in Punch. Hare went on to write a series of detective novels.

Smallbone Deceased, 1950 by Michael Gilbert (British Library Publishing, 2019)

45998455._SY475_Synopsis: Horniman, Birley and Craine is a highly respected legal firm with clients drawn from the highest in the land. When a deed box in the office is opened to reveal a corpse, the threat of scandal promises to wreak havoc on the firm’s reputation—especially as the murder looks like an inside job. The partners and staff of the firm keep a watchful and suspicious eye on their colleagues, as Inspector Hazlerigg sets out to solve the mystery of who Mr. Smallbone was—and why he had to die. Written with style, pace, and wit, this is a masterpiece by one of the finest writers of traditional British crime novels since the Second World War.

About the Author: Born in Lincolnshire, Michael Francis Gilbert (1912 – 2006) was educated in Sussex before entering the University of London where he gained an LLB with honours in 1937. Gilbert was a founding member of the British Crime Writers Association, and in 1988 he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America – an achievement many thought long overdue. He won the Life Achievement Anthony Award at the 1990 Boucheron in London, and in 1980 he was knighted as a Commander in the Order of the British Empire. Gilbert made his debut in 1947 with Close Quarters, and since then has become recognized as one of our most versatile British mystery writers.

Now I’m reading Smallbone Deceased and I look forward to reading soon the other three. Stay tuned.