Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Close Quarters: Michael Gilbert

The Close at Melchester Cathedral has been plagued with anonymous letters accusing the senior verger, Daniel Appledown, of misconduct. The Dean is very concerned and is lucky enough to have a nephew, Bobby Pollock, who is a Detective Sergeant at Scotland Yard. The Dean invites him to visit and quietly investigate. After Pollock proceeds with interviewing some of the residents of the close and getting to know more about the community, Appledown is murdered. Now the investigation becomes official, and DS Pollock asks his boss, Inspector Hazelrigg, to come down and help the local police.

This is the first book in a series of six books featuring Inspector Hazelrigg. The fourth book in the series is Smallbone Deceased, which is considered by many to be Michael Gilbert's best novel. Before reading that, I wanted to get a taste of Inspector Hazelrigg, so I started with this book.

Close Quarters is very much a traditional puzzle-type mystery, with a list of characters at the beginning of the book, and a map of the close, illustrating the neighborhood, and a crossword which was worked out by two of the characters. I was very envious of the solvers, as that type of crossword drives me crazy and is utterly beyond me, although I love words and have worked the US type of crossword all my life.

This book is quite good, told with subtle humor and wit. Pollack has established fairly early on that the crimes must have been done by an insider, one of the members of the community living within the cathedral close. For the most part, the residents of the cathedral close form a genial and friendly community, but as Pollock and Hazelrigg investigate, a lot of secrets and surprises are revealed. The only problem I had with the book was the number of  characters; I always get confused with a big cast.

Also see posts on this book at Noah's Archives, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, and A Hot Cup of Pleasure.

I read Smallbone Deceased immediately after finishing this book, and I will be posting my thoughts on that book soonish.


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Publisher:  Rue Morgue Press, 2007 (orig. pub. 1947)
Length:     191 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Series:      Inspector Hazelrigg #1
Setting:     England
Genre:      Police procedural
Source:     I purchased this book.

20 comments:

  1. Was looking forward to your review, Tracy and am glad to note that I wasn't the only one who got confused with the characters :). Thanks for the link to my blog though the name is A Hot Cup of Pleasure:)

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    1. I am so sorry, neer, I will fix that right now. I seem to switch words all the time now. I was happy to include your review and enjoyed all the nice covers you showcased.

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    2. No problem, Tracy. In fact, I laughed when I read it because that's how almost everyone writes the name of my blog:). Thanks also for your kind words regarding the review. Looking forward to the review of Smallbone Deceased.

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    3. Well, I am glad to know I am not the only one, neer.

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  2. Thank you, Tracy, for the kind mention. I agree with you about the nice, light touch of wit. I think that aspect really added to the story. There are, as you say, a lot of characters; I'm glad, because of that, that Collins provides a cast of characters, so that the reader can refer to it. You have a fine review here, for which thanks.

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    1. It is interesting about the humor in Gilbert's writing, Margot. I don't think of the books as humorous, but it is the underlying humorous touch that makes them special.

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  3. More Michael Gilbert is always good - a really superb and thoroughly unpretentious storyteller.

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    1. I haven't read a lot of Michael Gilbert books, but I plan to read more of them, Sergio.

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  4. Glad you liked it, but not one for me I don't think. I do have something by him - Rollercoaster and Death in Captivity.

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    1. Rollercoaster sounds interesting, Col. Death in Captivity is very good.

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  5. I've enjoyed all the Michael Gilbert books I've read. I'll have to track down a copy of CLOSE QUARTERS after reading your fine review.

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    1. Thanks, George. My favorite Michael Gilbert book so far is GAME WITHOUT RULES (Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens short stories). I have many more that I want to read.

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  6. First mystery: a definition of "close" in this context, Tracy. Google didn't help, but I'll admit to a pretty good idea what it is. Haven't read any Gilbert yet, but I've seen he's well regarded here. And this book sounds interesting.

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    1. I had the same question, Mathew. The term was unfamiliar to me, also. It took a lot of searching, since close is mainly used as verb or adjective, but this was what I found: Chiefly British, enclosed grounds around or beside a building; or, the grounds and buildings that surround and belong to a cathedral. I guess I had heard it used that way, but not a lot.

      I have only read a few books by Michael Gilbert so far but I am already a big fan. As soon as I read the Calder and Behrens spy stories, I was hooked.

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    2. Sucker for a good spy story, aren't you, Tracy. ;-)

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    3. You are so right, Mathew. If I had to choose just one sub-genre, that would be it. Luckily, I don't.

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    4. All Cathedrals in the UK have a 'close'! I live very near to the Close in my home town - it's the area around the Cathedral, would probably have been walled originally, and contains the houses where the Dean and senior clergy live. It is usually a very attractive, pretty, green area - and anyone can walk freely through it. Our own one is a very welcoming area, with events staged there all the time. Locals use it as a cut-through, or lounge around there and socialize if the weather is nice. It is a lovely open space in the middle of the town.

      I am forever meaning to re-read this book, which I first picked up long ago, perhaps you will inspire me to do so!

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    5. I know very little about Cathedrals in the UK, Moira. I had never heard of the Dean of a Cathedral until I read this book. When I was looking up Melchester close specifically I primarily got real estate information for the area, which confused me even more. Live and learn.

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  7. I really do like all the Michael Gilbert books I've read so far,
    Tracy (except for one which I'm convinced was just an anamoly). Going to order this one in my next batch of Gilberts. :)

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    1. I have several more books by Gilbert sitting on my TBR pile, Yvette, and I hope to get to them soon. I expect I will like them all.

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