Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Smallbone Deceased: Michael Gilbert

Just last week I posted my thoughts on the first book in the Inspector Hazelrigg series, Close Quarters. Smallbone Deceased, considered Micheal Gilbert's masterpiece by many, is the fourth book in that series.


In both books, Inspector Hazelrigg is the investigating officer in a murder case, and in both of them his role is not central. He is important in the story and to the solution of the crime, but there are other important characters in each book. And I like it that way.

In this book, Henry Bohun, new solicitor in the firm of Horniman, Birley and Craine, does a good bit of the investigating. He actually does it at the behest of Inspector Hazelrigg, who knows of his reputation from another policeman, Bobby Pollock, who was a major character in Close Quarters. Bohun is uniquely fitted to this assignment because he came into the firm after the murder had taken place.

So, a brief summary:
Shortly after Bohun joins the firm, a deed box containing important documents is opened, and inside the box there is a dead body, instead of the expected papers. The body is found to be Marcus Smallbone, who was a trustee, along with Abel Horniman, of the Ichabod Stokes Trust. Although Abel Horniman is also dead, he is the main suspect. Over the next two weeks, Hazelrigg, Detective Sergeant Plumptree, and Bohun track down the clues in the investigation.

For me, the main attraction of Michael Gilbert's books is his writing style, clever and witty. The legal office setting in this book appears to me to be very realistic and the detail of the office interactions are fascinating. Add to that the wonderful character of Henry Bohun and the other interesting and somewhat quirky employees at Horniman, Birley and Craine, and the story is just about perfect.

At the end there is a brief chapter (titled "The Bill of Costs is Presented") explaining how and why the culprit did it and why some of the other suspects did not. Usually I don't like those kinds of rehashing of previous facts and clues, but this one was not overly long and was quite entertaining.

Many readers think of this as Michael Gilbert's best novel, but I will have to read a few more of his books before I can see how this one ranks in comparison. I am already exceedingly fond of the Mr. Calder and Mr. Behren's books, but those are a series of short stories.

Other reviews can be viewed at Pretty Sinister Books, Reactions to Reading, Clothes in Books, Past Offences, and In so many WORDS.

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Publisher:  Penguin, 1981 (orig. publ. 1950).
Length:      208 pages 
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Inspector Hazelrigg, #4
Setting:      UK
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

22 comments:

  1. Not Michael Gilbert's best novel, but his best detective story.

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    1. I haven't read enough of his books to have an opinion, but I plan to remedy that in the next year. And I suspect I will agree with you.

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  2. I know what you mean about Gilert's writing style, Tracy. It's accessible and flows well, and I do like his wit. He created some very clever mysteries, too, and I'm glad you thought this was one of them.

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    1. I have five more books by Michael Gilbert on my shelves, Margot, and I have heard good things about all of them.

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  3. Wouldn’t let me post under my Google account again, so we’ll try it this way.

    You’ve piqued my interest and I’m going to start a Michael Gilbert if I ever finish Lolly Willowes! This one sounds really good and I think I passed it up at Mr. Kay’s Books last week in favor of Barbara Pam. Might be a mistake! I have two Gilbert’s here though to read.

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    1. I am sorry that you are still having problems commenting, Peggy. And I appreciate that you keep trying because I love to hear from you.

      I think that any book of Michael Gilbert's that you try will be good. Of course, I have admitted here that I don't have a lot of experience with his books, but I have read a lot of good reviews and all the books I have read are really good.

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  4. Tracy, it does sound a good book, but I'll stick with where I'm at. Glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. Yes, we both have too many books, Col. But that is not a bad thing.

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  5. I have the same Penguin edition! This was a very good debut but not his best I don't think - but then, he wrote so many fine books, impossible to choose from probably!

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    1. I am looking forward to reading much more by Gilbert in 2018, Sergio. And finishing the 2nd Calder and Behrens book of stories this year.

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  6. I simply LOVED this book, Tracy. Having read several Gilbert books, I'd say that SMALLBONE remains my favorite. Though a couple of others have almost scaled the heights. Michael Gilbert has been a terrific discovery for me. Where was I all those years he was writing? Oblivious. :)

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    1. I know, Yvette, it surprises me that I had not read his books earlier. I had heard of this book, because it is on so many lists of best mysteries, and still did not try it until now.

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  7. Enjoyed your review, Tracy. Yes, a classic. I think I have read everything he wrote. He is one of my favourite crime writers.

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    1. thanks, Christine. I wish I had not started to read his books so late, but then there is the benefit of having so many of his books to read now.

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  8. There's a Calder and Behrens book that came out in the UK a few years ago that's going for over $100...if you can find a copy!

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    1. Amazing, George, that is quite expensive. I did look for early hardback copies at first, but I determined that they were too expensive (although not $100) and I should save my money to be able to afford copies of his other books. Some I have found used, some I have bought in reprint editions.

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  9. Well, you're wearing down my resistance to a new author (for me) with your incisive reviews, Tracy. Afraid I shall have to succumb rather soon.

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    1. I usually would not push an author on anyone, Mathew, but I do think Michael Gilbert is worth reading and he aimed at never writing the same book twice (which probably worked for and against him).

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  10. I LOVE this book, it's one of my favourites: I love the office setting, and the atmosphere of the time, and there are some very clever clues. I remember some scenes very well, including the one where the hero catches the burglar and chats to him.

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    1. Office settings are very good for novels, Moira. For many reasons I am sure, but I like that you see just one element of people in an office and then (at least in a mystery novel) more of their background is revealed. Having worked in various types of offices for 45 years (and continuing), that setting always interests me.

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  11. A very enjoyable book by a terrific writer.

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    1. I agree on both the book and the writer, Martin, although I have only read a small percentage of his books so far. I am looking forward to reading many more.

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