Michael Gilbert
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Michael Gilbert
Michael Gilbert (1912-2006) wrote some 50 books, most of them crime and spy stories. There is a comprehensive list of them on the Fantastic Fiction site. Gilbert is a first-rate story-teller and I've found all his novels quite absorbing, and been impressed every time by how different they are from each other. I particularly like the action, excitement and humour that underlie them. He features numerous different detectives (including Patrick Petrella, Chief Inspector Hazelrigg, Former Chief Inspector Mercer, Luke Pagan, Henry Montacute Bohun, and Jonas Pickett) but their personalities are really less important than the plots which are entirely engrossing. I'm not usually too keen on either spy stories or short stories - but I really enjoyed reading his.

As a young man, he taught in a prep (private) school and took a degree in Law. During the Second World War, he served in North Africa and Italy, and was imprisoned by the Germans in Northern Italy in 1943, escaping when the Italians surrendered. After the war, he finished training as a solicitor and joined the Lincolns Inn firm, of which he eventually became a partner. He made use of all these experiences in his books. He became a founder member of the Crime Writers Association and of the Screen Writers Guild. He published his first book (Close Quarters) in 1947, although he'd begun writing it before he was called up in 1939.

Don't miss Smallbone Deceased (lawyers), The Night of the Twelth (school), Overdrive (high finance), Mr Calder and Mr Behrens (secret agents), and The Queen Against Karl Mullen (trial, published when he was 80). There is a good web page on his life and books on the books and authors site. He had 6 children, two of whom, Harriet and Angus, have also published novels.

Gilbert's UK publishers sometimes didn't seem to do him too well when it came to designing covers, which were often lurid and sometimes plain silly (as with the Smallbone Deceased one shown here - you wouldn't guess from it that this particular book was selected by Julian Symons as one of his 99 Best Crime Stories. The cover totally fails to do justice to his sophisticated story-telling). Publishers also went in for small runs of his works with the result that some of them (such as Stay of Execution, a selection of legal short stories, and Over and Out are now rare finds).
I wrote to Michael Gilbert in June 2005 to tell him how much I enjoyed rediscovering his books, and had a charming letter back from his wife saying how few and far between such letters had become, but he was far from well and almost totally blind as well as unable to walk unaided - but he was then approaching his 93rd birthday. He died in February 2006.



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Smallbone Deceased cover
A silly paperback cover for a sophisticated book.

Be Shot for Sixpence cover
The American paperback publishers tried to be even more sensational.

Paint. Gold and Blood dust jacket
This hardback dust jacket is more up-market and looks much more intriguing.

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