Michael Gilbert, 1912-2006, Crime Writer and Solicitor

I have just learned that Michael Gilbert, British crime writer and solicitor, died on February 8, 2006.

I discovered Gilbert’s crime novels as a young adult. Because his career as a novelist began about the time I was born, I had a richness of back titles to explore and enjoy. I treasure my collection of his books. In the past month I have enjoyed re-reading several of them, including The Crack in the Teacup, The Country House Burglar (published in the UK as Sky High), and Blood and Judgment.

In an obituary at the Guardian’s website, HRF Keating writes:

Michael Gilbert, who has died aged 93, entertained a large public from 1947 until some two years before his death with a stream of novels in the broad genre of crime, always skilfully telling a story, invariably illuminating sharply aspects of British life and, on occasion, digging deep into the human psyche so as to point to an unwavering moral.

Out of inherent modesty, however, he liked to deny that he was making any attempt to be like those novelists who are seen as laying down moral maps – unlike some crime practitioners. Indeed, in commenting on his aims in the massive reference work, Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers, he included a gentle rebuke to myself. In reviewing his The Night of the Twelfth (1976), I had praised him for introducing a grave note of that sort; what, he asked, “is a writer to do if he is not allowed to entertain?”

And entertain Gilbert did, not only with some 30 novels but with many short stories, as well as four stage plays, plays for radio and plays and serials for television. All this occurred while he was at Lincoln’s Inn, where he worked as a solicitor and later partner. His clients ranged from the government of Bahrain to Raymond Chandler, with whom he had a lively correspondence.

How did he manage to do it all? By industry and application, of course, but also by taking advantage of the 50-minute morning train journey from his home in Kent to write some 500 words each day. . .

He wrote those books by hand, on the train to and from the office. His career at the bar followed his military service in WWII – including being captured and kept as a PoW in Italy, escaping from that captivity as the Italians were sliding into defeat late in the war.

As I unpack my books in my new home, I will probably stop and browse through some of Mr. Gilbert’s. I never met him, or corresponded with him. I think of him as one of the “Greatest Generation,” to use Tom Brokaw’s term. They grew up in the Depression, fought WWII, and came back to live in an ever-changing world.

The NY Times has also published an obituary of Mr. Gilbert.

There is an excellent retrospective and bibliography on the marvelous Pegasos site.

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One thought on “Michael Gilbert, 1912-2006, Crime Writer and Solicitor

  1. I regret to say that I’ve only read a couple of his wonderful writing. However, now I’m reminded of it again by his death, I will make sure to have a friend look up his out-of-prints on the next UK trip. Actually, I’m long overdue to return, so maybe I’ll go along this time. 🙂

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