Book Review: Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert, edited by Martin Edwards.

Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert is a classic British mystery novel first published in 1950. The novel is set in the fictional legal firm of Horniman, Birley and Craine in London, where a body is discovered in one of the firm’s deed rooms. The story follows the investigations of Inspector Hazlerigg of Scotland Yard as he tries to uncover the identity of the victim, and the circumstances leading up to their death.

The novel is a perfect example of a traditional British murder mystery, with a strong emphasis on the puzzle element of the crime. The story is full of twists and turns, red herrings, and misdirection, which will keep readers guessing until the very end. The novel is also rich in character development and has a well-drawn cast of characters, from the prim and proper legal secretaries to the more sinister characters lurking in the background.

One of the key strengths of Smallbone Deceased is its setting. The novel is set entirely within the confines of the legal firm, which creates a claustrophobic atmosphere that adds to the tension and suspense of the story. The legal firm itself is a character in its own right, with its labyrinthine corridors, hidden rooms, and secret passages, which provide the perfect backdrop for a murder mystery.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, which allows the reader to see the events of the novel from different angles. The various narrators provide different pieces of information and insights into the mystery, which adds to the complexity of the plot. The author has managed to create a sense of time and place, and the reader can almost feel the musty, dusty atmosphere of the deed room where the body was discovered.

Another strength of Smallbone Deceased is its prose style. Michael Gilbert’s writing is crisp, clear, and concise, and he has a knack for creating memorable characters with just a few well-chosen words. The dialogue is also excellent, with each character having their own distinct voice and mannerisms.

Despite being written over 70 years ago, the novel has aged remarkably well. The plot is still engaging, and the characters are still vivid and interesting. The novel’s themes of greed, ambition, and betrayal are universal, and will resonate with readers today.

In terms of weaknesses, there are a few minor quibbles. The pacing of the novel can be a little slow at times, and the plot can get bogged down in the details of the legal proceedings. However, these are minor issues, and do not detract from the overall quality of the novel.

In conclusion, Smallbone Deceased is a classic British mystery novel that deserves to be read by fans of the genre. Michael Gilbert’s writing is excellent, and the novel’s setting, characters, and plot are all top-notch. The novel is a masterclass in how to create a gripping murder mystery, and will keep readers guessing until the very end. Highly recommended. You can get a copy from Amazon here.


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