By Gilbert B. Elwyn
From time to time, this column will serve to remind you of some of the authors of the past. Grand Master British author, Michael Gilbert, remains unknown to many mainstream readers.
Michael Gilbert specialized in mysteries that evoked the Great Britain of Hitchcock’s Caldicott and Charters; tea and cricket and a pint at the pub. He shared a legal background with John Mortimer and Henry Cecil and, like them, wrote best about that which he knew best, the British legal chambers.
Some of Gilbert’s books also are reminiscent of some of Alfred Hitchcock’s best works. Average men and women are placed in extraordinary circumstances, where danger and the commonplace coexist in a crazy juxtaposition. This makes the danger more shocking and the commonplace somehow eerie.
Michael Gilbert had few series characters. Petrella of the “Q Division” police procedurals is one of them; two of his most enjoyable
are his spy team, Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens, accompanied by their canine partner Rasselas. They are more reminiscent of George Smiley than of James Bond, but they too have and use their “license to kill”.
Excerpt: Mr Behrens said, raising his voice a little, ‘If I were to lift my right hand a very well trained dog, who has been approaching you quietly from the rear while we were talking, would have jumped for your throat.’
The colonel smiled. ‘Your imagination does you credit. What happens if you lift your left hand? Does a genie appear from a bottle and carry me off?’
’If I raise my left hand’, said Mr Behrens, ‘you will be shot dead.’
And, so saying, he raised it.
When trying to qualify Michael Gilbert’s books, though, we are reminded of a quote about Cary Grant. “Average movies starring Cary Grant are better than above average movies starring almost anyone else.”