That would be Michael Gilbert, author of some of the best mysteries you have never read. It torques me mightily that he is not better known on this side of the pond. A while back I stumbled across a new edition of The Night of the Twelfth on Amazon, and I was so pleased to see it available in the US that I thought I’d give it a little push on stabenow.com.
The bodies of three mutilated children have been found in the peaceful Surrey countryside, and the third murder yields a single clue that leads the Surrey Constabulary to the general vicinity of Trenchard House Preparatory School. Mr. Fairfax, headmaster of Trenchard House, has enough to deal with already, including maintaining the security of one of his pupils, who is the son of the Israeli ambassador, and replacing a teacher lost to the stress of, well, teaching a lively group of young men alert to any sign of weakness on the part of the staff. The new teacher, Mr. Manifold, is something of a disciplinarian, as witness his pulverizing One-B (a great scene). He is not quite what he seems, but then, viewed through the lens of three child murders, neither is any of the rest of the staff of Trenchard House.
The setting is reminiscent of R.F. Delderfield’s To Serve Them All My Days, another wonderful novel set in a British public school. The plot will be dear to every puzzle lover’s heart and the villain is ghoulish enough to creep out all but the most hardened reader, but the real stars of this novel are the boys, each rendered whole and individual in that iconicly economic Gilbertian style.
“It was only that Mr. Mollison was such an ass. I’m sorry, sir. But he was. You know what started the rot? It was in Scripture. One of them asked him what a harlot was. Well, really! That’s been a standing joke for years. All he had to say was, ‘It’s the biblical name for a tart,’ and they’d have know where they were.”
“What did he say?”
“According to those that were present, he blushed and said, ‘Well, Paine, it’s–um–a girl who has–er–lost her way.’ After that they pulled his leg until it nearly came off. When anyone on one of his walks took a wrong turning, they used to shout in unison, ‘Come back you harlots.'”
Highly recommended, and a great Christmas gift for the mystery lover in your life.
Other excellent Michael Gilbert reads:
The Queen Against Karl Mullen, the best courtroom drama since Witness for the Prosecution.
The Long Journey Home, a tale of presumed loss, return and revenge worthy of Shakespeare.
Fear to Tread, featuring one of my favorite Gilbert characters, Mr. Weatherall, and my favorite Gilbertian line, “Now Mr. Weatherall had meant to be good.”
The Danger Within, a story of British officers in a WWII Italian POW camp that is a cross between The Great Escape, Hart’s War, and Stalag 17.
And just for fun, here’s the trailer for Stalag 17.