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Authors: Michael Gilbert

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Smallbone Deceased

First published in 1950

© Estate of Michael Gilbert; House of Stratus 1950-2012


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

The right of Michael Gilbert to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.

This edition published in 2012 by House of Stratus, an imprint of

Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,

Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.

Typeset by House of Stratus.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.




This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author's imagination.

Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.

About the Author


Born in Lincolnshire, England, Michael Francis Gilbert graduated in law from the University of London in 1937, shortly after which he first spent some time teaching at a prep-school which was followed by six years serving with the Royal Horse Artillery. During World War II he was captured following service in North Africa and Italy, and his prisoner-of-war experiences later leading to the writing of the acclaimed novel
‘Death in Captivity'
in 1952.

After the war, Gilbert worked as a solicitor in London, but his writing continued throughout his legal career and in addition to novels he wrote stage plays and scripts for radio and television. He is, however, best remembered for his novels, which have been described as witty and meticulously-plotted espionage and police procedural thrillers, but which exemplify realism.

HRF Keating stated that
‘Smallbone Deceased'
was amongst the 100 best crime andmystery books ever published.
“The plot,”
wrote Keating,
“is inevery way as good as those of Agatha Christie at her best: as neatlydovetailed, as inherently complex yet retaining a decent credibility, and asfull of cunningly-suggested red herrings.”
It featured Chief Inspector Hazlerigg, who went on to appear in later novels and short stories, and another series wasbuilt around Patrick Petrella, a London based police constable (later promoted)who was fluent in four languages and had a love for both poetry and fine wine. Othermemorable characters around which Gilbert built stories included Calder and Behrens. They are elderly but quite amiable agents, who are nonetheless ruthless andprepared to take on tasks too much at the dirty end of the business for theiryounger colleagues. They are brought out of retirement periodically uponreceiving a bank statement containing a code.

Muchof Michael Gilbert's writing was done on the train as he travelled from home tohis office in London:
“I always take a latish train to work,” heexplained in 1980, “and, of course, I go first class. I have no trouble inwriting because I prepare a thorough synopsis beforehand.”.
After retirementfrom the law, however, he nevertheless continued and also reviewed for
‘TheDaily Telegraph'
, as well as editing
‘The Oxford Book of Legal Anecdotes'

Gilbertwas appointed CBE in 1980. Generally regarded as ‘one of the elder statesmen ofthe British crime writing fraternity, he was a founder-member of the BritishCrime Writers' Association and in 1988 he was named a Grand Master by theMystery Writers of America, before receiving the Lifetime ‘Anthony' Achievementaward at the 1990 Boucheron in London.

MichaelGilbert died in 2006, aged ninety three, and was survived by his wife and theirtwo sons and five daughters.


Michael Gilbert, Entertainer

It could easily be argued that Michael Gilbert was one of the greatest crime fiction writers of the twentieth century. He belongs to a very select group of writers who have been named Grandmaster by the Mystery Writers of America, awarded a Diamond Dagger for career accomplishments by the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain and honoured for his lifetime achievement at Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention. Yet in 2007, less than a year after his death on February 8, 2006, at the age of 93, only one of his more than forty books – and a short story collection at that – was in print in the United States. Why this is should be so tells us more about the lamentable state of publishing today than it does about Gilbert's talent and his immense contribution to the genre.

Some critics have argued that Gilbert would have done better to stick with just one form of the crime novel, suggesting that variety is not the surest path to commercial success. The principle of same book, just a little bit different, has kept many lesser talents at the top of the New York
bestseller list. Instead, Gilbert tackled virtually every aspect of the genre: classic detective stories, police procedurals, spy novels, adventure stories and courtroom dramas. There was nary a dud in the lot and several that probably will be read with pleasure a hundred years from now. Nor did he restrict himself to the novel. In a day and age when the short story has fallen into disfavour, he was a master of the form. One early collection.
Game Without Rules,
was named by Ellery Queen as one of the most important mystery short story collections of all time. These droll stories featuring those cutthroat but always gentlemanly spies Calder and Behrens were a hit on British and American television several decades later.

Gilbert's first book,
Close Quarters,
set in the summer of 1937, was begun in 1938 while he was a schoolmaster in Salisbury, and the Melchester Cathedral of the book is obviously patterned after Salisbury Cathedral, albeit a considerably smaller version. War interrupted both Gilbert's teaching and fledgling writing careers. While serving with the Royal Horse Artillery in North Africa and Europe, Gilbert was captured and spent part of the war in an Italian prisoner of war camp, a setting he used in one of this most successful novels, 1952's
The Danger Within
(published in England as
Death in Captivity).
It was filmed in 1958 and starred Richard Todd, Michael Wilding and Richard Attenborough.

Close Quarters
was finally published in 1947. Years later Gilbert complained that he found the book somewhat “cluttered.” And while it's true that this leisurely apprentice effort lacks some of the subtle control found in his subsequent books, many critics begged to differ with this judgment, including National Book Award winner Jacques Barzun, who called it “one of the good stories of murder in godly surroundings,” remarking that the diagrams accompanying the text make it easy to follow the clues. Frank Denton, writing in
The St. James Guide to Crime & Mystery Writers,
said that Gilbert's maiden effort was a solid achievement which paled only when compared with his later books where “experience brought maturity of writing.” Gilbert, he suggested, could “always be depended on to deliver solid reading entertainment.”

Smallbone Deceased
(1950) is often considered one of Gilbert's masterpieces. Like many of his books, it borrows on his postwar experience as a solicitor. Gilbert numbered the Conservative Party and Raymond Chandler (whose will he drafted) among his clients. He did virtually all of his writing while commuting by train between his home in Kent and his law offices in London.

While Gilbert received an extraordinary number of literary awards and honours in his long lifetime, he was not without his detractors. He expressed amusement when British critics (and fellow mystery writers) Julian Symons and H.R.F. Keating complained that Gilbert fell short of greatness because he was more concerned with entertaining than in enlightening his readers. “I find the whole thing puzzling,” Gilbert wrote in 1980. “What is a writer to do if he is not allowed to entertain?” The passing of time did not alter his opinion. Ten years later he dismissed those deeply analytical novels which serve primarily as a showcase for their author's personalities as not “members of the true and honourable line of crime stories. They may be something else. As to what I offer no opinion.”

Tom & Enid Schantz
June 2007
Lyons, Colorado


Henry Bohun
. A very newly minted but highly capable solicitor who shines equally as an amateur sleuth. A parainsomniac, he sleeps only two hours a night.

Abel Horniman
. The recently deceased founder and senior partner of the London law firm of Horniman, Birley and Craine. A very methodical man.

John Cove
. A rather flippant solicitor who genially befriends Henry.

Eric Duxford
. Another solicitor, whose comings and goings elicit the suspicion of John Cove. There is no love lost between these two.

William Hatchard Birley
. A partner and litigator in the law firm. Not a very pleasant man: in fact, he's a bit of a bully.

Tristram Craine
. Another, decidedly more affable (if lecherous), partner.

Bob Horniman
. Abel's son and heir, who has been made a reluctant partner.

Sergeant Cockerill
. The very able commissionaire who keeps the firm running.

Anne Mildmay
. Craine's pretty and pleasant young secretary.

Elizabeth Cornel
. Abel Horniman's very competent secretary, passed on to Bob Horniman upon his father's death. She is also a former championship golfer.

Cissie Chittering
. Mr. Birley's long – suffering young secretary.

Florrie Bellbas
. A pretty but hopelessly literal – minded young thing, secretary to both Cove and Duxford.

Mrs. Porter
. Henry's older, very experienced secretary.

Marcus Smallbone
. An important client, now deceased.

Inspector Hazlerigg
. In charge of the investigation, he recruits the newly arrived (and therefore clearly innocent) Henry to work with him from within the firm.

Sergeant Plumptree
. His extremely able and resourceful assistant.

Mr. Hoffman
. A tenacious accountant for the Fraud Squad.

Dr. James Bland
. The police pathologist.

Mr. Brown
. A private detective hired by John Cove.

Plus assorted clerks, landladies, police personnel, and a cat named Chancery.

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