If ever there was an author whose works cried out to be instantly uploaded to Kindle, Michael Gilbert is him. Fear to Tread is one of four or five (or six, or seven) of my favorites of his novels.
Wilfred Wetherall, headmaster of the South Borough Secondary School for boys in post-World War II London, is beset by small problems both professional and personal. His favorite restaurant is going out of business. The father of a promising student appears determined to avert every effort of Mr. Wetherall's to find his son a job that will further his artistic ability. A former student is now a member of the Metropolitan Police Force, lost his wife to thugs he was investigating undercover, and seems on an irreversible downhill slide.
I’m not a big fan of short stories–I like the elbow room a novel gives my imagination–but I’ll read pretty much anything by Michael Gilbert. I wasn’t disappointed here, in a collection of shorts about Patrick Petrella (star of stand-alone novels Blood and Judgement and Roller-Coaster), following his career from his first case as a…
Young Katie Steelstock, back in her home village of Hannington from her TV role in London as Britain’s sweetheart, is brutally murdered after a small-town dance. Her lover stands accused but not so fast, as other bodies begin to pile up. One of Gilbert’s grimmer efforts, as in maybe he went one death too…
"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.'"
Mr. Stackpool was a stout, cheerful, talkative solicitor. He wore a pair of horn-rimmed glasses which were so thick and heavy that they constantly threatened to pull his face down into his collar. Mrs. Stackpool was smaller all round. She had a worried expression. it could easily have been caused by her husband's bidding and play.
Robert Broke moves to Florence after the tragic death of his wife and unborn child, and stumbles into a conspiracy to fake and sell Etruscan artifacts about which he knows far too much for the comfort of the crooks. His friends rally round to find out the truth.
There's your generic capsule summary of the plot, and it's a good one, but oh, the characters are lovely, especially the expatriate English, as for example
Miss Plant was, in every sense of the word, the leading lady of the English colony in Florence. She had been there since around the beginning of the century. The accident that Italy had happened to be on the wrong side in the Second World War had not incommoded her at all. It had, in truth, served to emphasize her standing and increase her prestige. It was true that the Italian authorities, badgered beyond endurance by the Germans, and after exhausting every excuse for delay, had eventually agreed to take Miss Plant into custody as an enemy alien. The experiment had not been a success.
to the extreme discomfort and eventual post-war social ostracism of the Questore, the Italian official who had so briefly taken her into custody. Then there is the English counsel, Sir Gerald Weighhill, pronounced "Whale"in case there is any doubt after the following passage:
Sir Gerald was the finest specimen of all Weighhills to date. He turned the scale, in his underpants, at two hundred fifty pounds, moved with the majesty of an aircraft carrier, and needed, unkind persons asserted, almost as much seaway to turn in. While he was still at an early age it had become clear that such talents must lead him into the Foreign Service.
And so it does. There are some marvelous Italian characters, like Tina and her mother Annunziata, Marco the Sindaco and Riccasole the attorney, and the bad guys are conscienceless enough to send a chill down the spine, and the setting is wish-you-were-there Tuscany. A fun read all around.
Brilliant genetic scientist Dr. Alexander Wolfe drives his car over a cliff one evening in southeastern England, and insurance adjuster Peter Manciple comes along behind to make sure that there is no reason that his firm shouldn't pay out on Dr. Wolfe's very large and oddly written insurance policy. All, as you surely knew, is not as it seems, and mayhem and bloody murder ensue.
Can I get away with using "quiet" to modify the noun "thriller?" Because that's what many of Michael Gilbert's books are, quiet thrillers. He has the endearing habit of elevating ordinary people by way of extraordinary circumstances to heretofore unthought of actions, and after the authorities come gallumphing in to investigate and inquire and pry and explain and justify, our not quite Ordinary Bloke carries on with his life. And then there are the always perceptive comments on Life, the Universe and Everything, and the sly asides that yank you up with a jerk and make you read them twice to make sure he really said that.
Another thing I like about Gilbert is that he doesn't always tie things up neatly at the end. The Empty House's conclusion is more neat than most, but you certainly understand Peter's ultimate decision.
Also, I'm not all that certain that Dr. Wolfe is really dead. He's been dead before.
She said irritatedly. 1. The Pearl Lagoon by Charles Nordhoff I took my knife and opened the oyster he had handed me. It was very old and diseased; the shells seemed half rotten, pierced with the holes of borers, and the flesh of the creature inside had a sickly, greenish look. My forefinger went under…