Classic Crime

Michael Gilbert

Michael Gilbert was born in Lincolnshire in the year 1912. He was educated at St. Peterís School, Sussex and subsequently at the University of London. Gilbertís first position was as a schoolmaster where he taught for some time in Salisbury. Experts in the crime genre feel that Gilbert used this experience in two of his earlier novels, Close Quarters and The Night of the Twelfth.

During the Second World War Gilbert served with the Honourable Artillery Company, serving in North Africa and Italy before being made a POW. It was his time as a POW that led him to write Death in Captivity in 1952.

In 1947, having obtained his law degree in 1937, Gilbert the legal firm of Trower, Still and Keeling. During these years, it was on the train to and from his office, that Gilbert wrote most of his novels and short stories. His knowledge of the legal system is shown in his widely known novel, Smallbone Deceased, as well as many others. Despite writing full length novels, Gilbert was better known for his wonderful short stories that succinctly bought to life the generation of the time.

Gilbert is credited as one of the original twelve founding members of the Crime Writerís Association and introduced a number of volumes to the CWA Anthology. Gilbert was also a member of The Detection Club and contributed to two anthologies.

In 1994, the CWA awarded Gilbert the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for outstanding contribution to crime fiction. Gilbert was also awarded The Mystery Writers of America Grand Master in 1987.

Michael Gilbert died in 2006.

Review: Even Murderers Take Holidays and other mysteries

This marvellous new collection of short stories brings together for the first time wonderful criminal vignettes featuring Gilbertís favourite characters like Petrella and Hazelrigg. Whether it was intentional or not, the book although at only 219 pages seems to be in two different halves. The first is like watching a wonderful Ealing black and white film where shady men in raincoats have secret assignations in a darkened cinema or in a smoky Saloon bar where fights are the norm. Most of these stories star Petrella and the cast of Q Division. Many of the stories include bank robberies or breaking into safes of one description or another Ė but it is the sense of time that is most prevalent in these short snippets of a policemanís lot.

Gilbertís way with language gives all the description you need to form a picture of a place or a character. His sentenceís are clipped but give all the information needed. Petrellaís adventures include arson, car theft, bomb-making and murder Ė attempted and premeditated. You cannot help but think that during Gilbertís time as a solicitor that he worked with a wealth of material that would one day end up in one of his short stories.

The second half to the book is equally exciting. Here we have tales without a main protagonist but they have the short, sharp stab of any tale spun by the best of todayís practioners of the short story - like Ruth Rendell. My particular favourites are The Indifferent Shot, Hangover, A Very Special Relationship and Mrs. Hasletís Gone. Of the Petrella stories keep an eye out for Deep and Crisp and Even, The White Slaves and Old Mr. Martin.

This is a wonderful vintage collection. It certainly stands up to the grimiest of todayís creations with the motley crew of characters that Gilbert has dredged up from his imagination Ė or were they? Some are so real you have to wonder how many of these people actually sat opposite Gilbert in his office. It is a shame that we will not see the like of Gilbert again - as these stories are a wonderful treasure trove of yesteryear. I strongly urge you to read these stories and savour a master at work.

Reviewed by: C.S.

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