short story collection, softcover, published Crippin & Landru, 2002.
Just after the New year I settled to re-read half a dozen of the author’s short story collections. Gilbert was a wonderful writer, one of those whom readers are furious to lose since in a very long career he produced no book that was less than good ranging up to superb. At least and happily, he produced a long list of them so if you start reading the lot you’re occupied for months and months depending on how fast you read. The thing I love about the author is not only that he tells a compelling and believable story, but also that he tends to drop in those touches of casual or accidental humour that exist in real life too. For instance the story Miss Bell’s Stocking, in which the local publican and a policeman friend are discussing the hoard of money (stocking) supposedly held by Miss Bell, and wondering where the money might be secreted.
“I heard she keeps it in a cage.”
“A cage?”
?t’s the cage she keeps her old parrot, Joey, in. Got a false bottom.”
Petrella choked over his coffee.

I choked too when I read that, and even now, after reading the story several times over the past twelve years, I still smile. It doesn’t come across as an author deliberately being funny, it’s simply the sort of thing someone says without initially realizing what they’ve said.
And that was Gilbert’s art, to make his people real, and the events that befell them the sort of thing that you could see happening under the circumstances described. Or that you could see happening to you, the reader, under those circumstances. Nor did he discriminate, his main characters were policemen and criminals, young, old, and inbetween, male and female, contemporary and historical, most nationalities, and of all levels of education. His work sold for over sixty years and those of us who’ve collected it over the years have only one regret, that he died and we’ll read no more of his wonderful yarns. I am in some ways mildly fortunate, I know that I don’t have one of his story collections Even Murderers take Holidays, and depending on whether two other books on his list of published volumes are new to me, or simply retitled for the USA market, I may not have read that duo either. One day I’ll find that missing collection at least, and have the thrill of reading a ‘new’ Gilbert. All of which is something rarely said about an author, and if you like a good crime/mystery story or novel then find some of his work, you can’t do better and you often do much worse. I particular recommend his collections, including the Patrick Petrella stories, Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens, and the novels, Sky High, SmallBone Deceased, the 92nd Tiger,and The Night of the Twelfth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.