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The Killing of Katie Steelstock

BOOK: The Killing of Katie Steelstock
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The Killing of Katie Steelstock


First published in 1980

© Estate of Michael Gilbert; House of Stratus 1980-2012


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 and mystery books ever published.
"The plot,"
wrote Keating, "
is in every way as good as those of Agatha Christie at her best: as neatly dovetailed, as inherently complex yet retaining a decent credibility, and as full of cunningly-suggested red herrings."
It featured Chief Inspector Hazlerigg, who went on to appear in later novels and short stories, and another series was built 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. Other memorable characters around which Gilbert built stories included Calder and Behrens. They are elderly but quite amiable agents, who are nonetheless ruthless and prepared to take on tasks too much at the dirty end of the business for their younger colleagues. They are brought out of retirement periodically upon receiving a bank statement containing a code.

Much of Michael Gilbert’s writing was done on the train as he travelled from home to his office in London:
"I always take a latish train to work," he explained in 1980, "and, of course, I go first class. I have no trouble in writing because I prepare a thorough synopsis beforehand.".
After retirement from the law, however, he nevertheless continued and also reviewed for
‘The Daily Telegraph’
, as well as editing
‘The Oxford Book of Legal Anecdotes’

Gilbert was appointed CBE in 1980. Generally regarded as ‘one of the elder statesmen of the British crime writing fraternity, he was a founder-member of the British Crime Writers’ Association and in 1988 he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, before receiving the Lifetime ‘Anthony’ Achievement award at the 1990 Boucheron in London.

Michael Gilbert died in 2006, aged ninety three, and was survived by his wife and their two sons and five daughters.



Jonathan Limbery sang in his thick tenor voice:


“Es zogen drei Burschen wohl iiber den Rhein Bei einer Frau Wirtin da Kehrten sie ein.”

[Eight varied and uncertain trebles repeated]

“Bei einer Frau Wirtin da Kehrten sie ein.”

“Frau Wirtin hat sie gut Bier und Wein

Wo hat sir ihr schones Tochterlein.”


“It’s very difficult, isn’t it?” said Roney Havelock. “I mean, it’s difficult enough learning to sing in English, but German!”

“German,” said Jonathan, “is the most natural singing language in the world. Look at that last word. Tochterlein. You can really get your tongue round Tochterlein.”

“What does it mean, anyway?” said Sim Havelock.

“It means ‘darling little daughter.’”

The trebles thought this was funny.

“You mustn’t laugh when you sing it at the concert,” said Jonathan. “It’s a very sad song. It’s about three students who crossed the Rhine to visit this inn. They were all in love with the landlady’s little daughter.”

“Her tockter-line?”

“That’s right. Only when they got there she was lying dead in her bed.”

“Tough,” said Roney. “What did they do?”

“They all go up to have a look at her. The next three verses are solos. You’ll have to take one each. The first student said how lovely she looked. The second one said he’d always been in love with her. The third one said he was
in love with her.”

“That’s balmy,” said Sim. “You couldn’t be in love with a dead girl. What would be the point of it?”

Tim Nurse said, “It sounds a bit soppy to me. One thing, if it’s in German no one’s going to know what it means. It’s quite a decent tune.”

“It’s gone seven,” said Jonathan. “You’d better all be pushing off or you’ll be late for your suppers.”

The boys, who varied in age from Terry Gonville, nearly fourteen, to Sim Havelock, just gone nine, were disposed around Jonathan’s music-cum-writing room. The windows were wide open to a late-August evening of blistering heat. They seemed disinclined to stir. Roney Havelock, who was only eleven but took the lead in most things, said, “Do us the ‘Walloping Window Blind,’ Jonathan. There’s time for that. Just one verse. We’ll sing the chorus for you.”

Jonathan sighed. Then he plucked a single note from his nickel-plated guitar, a note so deep that it might have come from a bass cello. In repose his face was unattractive. (“Mean eyes, a sour mouth and an obstinate chin,” Sally Nurse had said, “yet a lot of people like him.” “And a lot of people don’t,” her father had said.) When he sang he became a different person. He became part of the song, serious or humorous, bold or sentimental. A television cameraman who knew his job would have tracked extra close, to catch every tiny detail in a dead face which came to life in such a startling way.


“A capital ship for an ocean trip

Was the Walloping Window Blind


No wind that blew dismayed her crew

Or troubled the Captain’s mind.

The man at the wheel was made to feel

Contempt for the winds that blow,

Though it often appeared, when the gale had cleared,

That he’d been in his bunk below.”


The guitar quickened to a livelier tempo. The treble voices shrilled in unison.


“Then blow, ye winds—heigh-ho, ye winds,

A roving we will go—oh.

We’ll stay no more on England’s shore,

So let the music play—ay.

We’ll catch the morning train,

We’ll cross the raging main,

We’ll sail to our love in a boxing glove,

Ten thousand miles away.”


Jonathan produced a final arpeggio on the guitar and Roney said, “Go on. Go on. Next verse. The one about the bosun’s mate who was very sedate, yet fond of amusement too—oo.”

“It’s ten past seven.”

“One more verse. Just one,” said the boys. “Unless we have one more verse we won’t go.”

A head poked through the open window and Tony Windle said, “You having trouble with your choir, Johnno?”

“It’s a mutiny,” said Jonathan. “But I’m not going to yield to force. Come in and help me disperse the mob.”

Tony climbed through the window, picked up Sim Havelock and deposited him squealing onto the front path. Jonathan was putting away his guitar. He said, “Urchins, the jam session’s over. If you behave yourselves you can come again next Friday.”

The boys began to disperse reluctantly. Roney was the last to go. He said, “You wouldn’t get very far really. Not if you tried to sail in a boxing glove.”

“Perhaps it was a boat called the
Boxing Glove.”

Roney considered the point. He said, “Well, that’s one solution I hadn’t thought of,” and sprinted off after the other boys, who were walking arm in arm down the middle of Belsize Road chanting, “Then blow, ye winds—heigh-ho, ye winds, a roving we will go—oh.”

“Roving is something I shan’t be doing, not for a day or two,” said Tony. “That rancid jackanapes raided
car last night.”

“What did he do to it?”

“He took away the distributor head.”

“I say! Not funny.”

“Not funny at all,” said Tony. “And if I catch him, I’ll try to convince him of it.”

“Do you think it was boys? They seemed such kids’ tricks. Letting down George Mariner’s tires and emptying all the water out of old Vigors’ radiator.”

“You can blow tyres up again and refill a radiator,” said Tony gloomily. “I shall have to buy a new distributor head, and the car’ll be out of action for days. That’s what I came about. I promised to drive Katie to this hop.”

“Hasn’t she got a car of her own?”

“Certainly. But she’s a lazy little slut and always prefers to come in mine. Can I use your blower?”

“Help yourself.”

But the telephone produced no answer.

“Hell,” said Tony. “Now what am I going to do about that?”

“Borrow my car.”

“Hold it. I’ve got a better plan.” Tony climbed back out of the window and held up his hand to stop a young man who was coming up the road on a moped.

He said, “Hold your horses, Sergeant. I’ve got an official complaint to make. Come in.”

Detective Sergeant Ian McCourt, who was young, Scottish and helpful, dismounted and followed him in.

“It’s that bloody jackanapes,” said Tony. “He’s wrecked
car now by pinching the distributor head.”

“I’d like to hear about that. When did it happen?”

BOOK: The Killing of Katie Steelstock
3.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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