Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert

Rating: 4 out of 4.

Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert, first published in 1950, was his fourth Inspector Hazelrigg novel. It’s the first one I’ve read, although I have read two of his other books. There is an excellent introduction by Martin Edwards, which gives details of Gilbert’s career as a a solicitor and as a mystery writer. He wrote 30 novels and 185 short stories, as well as work for radio, television and stage.

As the title tells you Smallbone is dead. He was one of the trustees of the Ichabod Stokes Trust together with Abel Horniman, the senior partner of a London law firm, Horniman, Birley and Craine. After the recent death of Abel, whilst looking for the deeds relating to the Trust, Marcus Smallbone’s body was discovered in the Trust’s deed box, a large, hermetically sealed box.

Inspector Hazelrigg runs the police investigation. It’s obviously an inside job and with the help of Henry Bohun, a newcomer to the firm, the police investigate each of the suspects until by process of elimination the culprit is identified. Of course it’s not that straight forward, as each person’s motive, opportunity and alibi is considered and there are a number of red herrings that did baffle me a little. There is rather too much detail about the finances of the firm for my liking, but apart from that the book moves along swiftly.

The setting in the solicitors’ office after the end of the Second World War is well done and reflects the differences between the male professionals and the female admin staff with their intrigues, rivalries and flirtations. I think Bohun is the most interesting character, although they are all individually distinguishable. Bohun is not just new to the firm, but also a newly qualified solicitor. He has para-insomnia and never gets a full night’s sleep, averaging about ninety minutes a night. It doesn’t make him feel tired, but means he has lots of time to help Inspector Hazelrigg and still carry out his job, as well as doing a good deal of reading, walking the streets and even working as a night watchman. It’s written with a light touch and a sense of humour and I enjoyed it very much.

Now, I’d like to read more of Gilbert’s work, maybe starting with some of his short stories as Bohun appeared in nine short stories and also in a six-part radio thriller and Hazelrigg featured in nineteen short stories as well as in six novels.

Michael Gilbert

Michael Gilbert (1912-2006) wrote thrillers, police procedurals and espionage novels that rank among the highest and most varied achievements of British crime writing in the second half of the twentieth century. A founding member of the Crime Writers’ Association, Gilbert was for many years partner in a London law firm and drew on his knowledge of the law in writing his most acclaimed novel. For more information about Michael Gilbert see this article by Martin Edwards.

Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 5145 KB
Print Length: 236 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0755119193
Publisher: British Library Publishing (22 Jan. 2019)
Source: I bought it

My Friday Post: Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

My choice this week is Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert, one of the British Library Crime Classics.

It begins:

‘The thoughts of all present tonight,’ said Mr Birley, ‘will naturally turn first to the great personal loss – the very great personal loss – so recently suffered by the firm, by the legal profession and, if I may venture to say so without contradiction, by the British public.’

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

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These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 55 (page 56 is missing)

‘And why does that mean he couldn’t have killed Smallbone?’ said Bohun quietly.

‘I quite forgot, ‘ said Hazelrigg, ‘You don’t know how he was killed.’

‘I don’t said Bohun steadily, ‘and I suggest,’ he added, ‘that if you you’re going to trust me you don’t set traps for me.’

The book blurb:

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.

~~~

This will be the third book by Michael Gilbert that I’ve read. I thoroughly enjoyed Death Has Deep Roots when I read it last year, and so I’m hoping I’ll enjoy this one too.

If you have read it please let me know what you thought of it.

Death Has Deep Roots by Michael Gilbert (British Library Crime Classics)

 

Death has deep roots

Poisoned Pen Press| 5 November 2019| 288 pages|reprint edition| 4.5*

Death Has Deep Roots: a Second World War Mystery by Michael Gilbert was first published in 1951. This edition, published in association with the British Library, has an introduction by Martin Edwards.

I thoroughly enjoyed Death Has Deep Roots. Set in 1950 it’s a mix of courtroom drama, spy novel and an adventure thriller. Victoria Lamartine, a hotel worker, and an ex-French Resistance fighter is on trial for the murder of Major Eric Thoseby, her supposed lover, and alleged father of her dead child. The story alternates between the courtroom scenes, where QC Hargest Macrea is in charge of Vicky’s defence, and the investigations of solicitor Nap Rumbold in France, and his friend Major Angus McCann, who now keeps a pub in Shepherd Market.

Vicky is the obvious suspect – she was found standing over Thoseby’s dead body in his room at the Family Hotel in Soho, a room that was only accessed by one staircase – making this a variation on a locked room murder mystery. In evidence was also against her as Thoseby had been stabbed using the same method that the Resistance fighters had been taught. But she insists that she is not guilty.  Macrea and Nap believe her and Nap sets out to find the Englishman, Julian West, who Vicky says is the father of her dead child, whilst McCann investigates events in London.

I always like courtroom dramas and I think the courtroom scenes are impressive and persuasive as Macrea questions the prosecutions witnesses and manages to stall proceedings whilst Nap is away in France. It is, of course, much more complicated than I’ve described – there is a lot of information about the war in France and the work of the French Resistance, and the dangers that confront Nap as he digs deeper into what had happened to Wells. And I enjoyed the thrill of the chase as he travels through France with only a week to discover the truth.

I think what makes this book so good is not just the murder mystery, which I couldn’t solve, but also the setting and the characters. It was written not long after the end of the Second World War and it conveys a vivid impression of what life was like in both France and England, with memories of the war still fresh on people’s minds. Whilst Vicky is maybe a stereotypical character Nap, in particular, comes across as a more developed character – and a very likeable one too. It’s described as a book in the Inspector Hazelrigg series, but he only makes a brief appearance, with Nap, Macrea and McCann doing the main investigations.

Michael Gilbert was a British lawyer who wrote police procedurals, spy novels and many short stories, courtroom dramas, classical mysteries, adventure thrillers, and crime novels. I have another one of his to read, Smallbone Deceased and I hope to get round to it soon.

Many thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for a review copy via NetGalley.