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Smallbone Deceased Paperback – December 1, 2008

4.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Perhaps the best living master of the classic English murder mystery." (The New Yorker) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

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.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 190 pages
  • Publisher: Rue Morgue Press (December 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1601870353
  • ISBN-13: 978-1601870353
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #471,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Henry Bohun, WW2 veteran, former statistician, insomniac and newly licensed lawyer has joined the small, prestigious firm of Horniman, Birley and Craine. His first firm event is a memorial lunch for founding partner Abel Horniman, recently deceased from a heart condition. Not a very lively way to begin, but that is soon cured when the weeks-dead body of firm client Mr. Smallbone is discovered in a sealed deed box.

Enter Inspector Hazlerigg and his colleagues, who request Bohun's assistance with inside intelligence. It is apparent that the murder was an inside job, leaving as suspects six lawyers, five secretaries and three staff members.

Like many traditional mysteries of its time, SMALLBONE DECEASED is a "fair play" story. All the clues are provided and the painstaking reader can have a good notion of whodunnit and how. Gilbert provides a drawing of the offices, details about schedules, alibis, habits and clue-laden conversations. Hazlerigg's investigation and Bohun's intelligence gleaned from his work and contacts with his colleagues each provide pieces of the puzzle.

Unlike most modern mysteries, this is a short book without a great deal of detailed character development. This is not to say that the characters are cardboard cutouts. Gilbert provides a few details that, together with conversations, allow the reader to use his or her own imagination to picture the individuals easily.

Gilbert's writing style is dryly humorous.
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Format: Paperback
A satisfying mystery with a typically intuitive policeman who enlists the aid of a civilian in his inquiries into the murder of a man whose body lays undiscovered for weeks inside a large box in the office of an also recently dead solicitor. Gilbert writes well and the whole thing makes sense and keeps your interest right up to the solution in the last pages.

Originally published in 1950.
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If you like Brit wit, you might enjoy this mystery written in 1950. I love mysteries written in previous decades as you gain insight into how people conversed and what they did and thought about. It is like going back in time. In this mystery, a client of a law firm is missing and his body turns up in the oddest place. All of the employees of this law firm are suspects, including one who died recently. When another body turns up, Scotland Yard suspects the killer is still alive.

You suspect the author is a lawyer, which he is, as he has such a facile command of terms and procedures which adds to the authentic feel of the book. There's not a lot of action, but I didn't mind. I just love reading British repartee. The building on the cover of this book is where some of the action takes place, so the setting is wonderful, too.

This book is listed as one of the British Crime Writer's top 100 mystery novels. I enjoyed it, and read it due to other reviewer's recommendations here. The clues were there to ferret out the murderer, but I just sat back and enjoyed reading how the detectives did it.

4.5 stars
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