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29 November 2011

a collection of the ‘Patrick Petrella” stories published in hardcover by H&S in 1977, and reviewed by Lyn McConchie.

I’m taking it easy on the reading side by rereading all the books I have by a favourite author. Michael Gilbert was a brilliant writer, he produced a string of books and story collections for over 60 years (starting in 1946) none of which was a dud and which range from very good to brilliant. He wrote mysteries/police procedurals/crime/thrillers and spy stories. They aren’t the books and stories you see too many of nowadays, with cardboard characters, ultra violence, sadistic sex, and damn all plot. Where the only “mystery” is how many women will be kidnapped/beaten/raped/tortured and murdered before the hero finds the bad guy.
Gilbert’s characters were real people, often trapped in real situations, and his books hold up despite the earliest being published in the 40’s and 50’s. One of his series characters was Patrick Petrella, son of a high-ranking Spanish policemen, and an upper-class English girl. Patrick joined the London police force and in a series of books and short stories published over decades, policed the streets of his city, married, sired children, rose through the ranks, and finally retired. Petrella comes across as a real person as do his comrades around him and the criminals with which they deal. He can exhibit flashes of humour or anger, and in one story, a lethal rage when his small son is kidnapped to put pressure on Patrick. The stories about him in this collection have plots that range from the trivial (Rough Justice – the undoing of a garage owner) to by-the-throat-pathos (A Thoroughly Nice Boy) to the savage. (Why Tarry the Wheels of His Chariot.)
And the author knew what he was writing about. He was a lawyer in London (Raymond Chandller was one of his clients) and over a long life (Gilbert died at 93 in 2006 and several of his collections were published posthumously) he saw personally the changes in crime, the law, and police forces, that he detailed in his writing. If you like a very well-constructed story, characters that are completely believable, plots that are logical and work that is beautifully written, look no further. You’ll have a fair choice, his books if you count collections number over 40. Many remain in print (others appear in used book’s shops) and if you tire of the over-violent and graphic, go out and buy a Gilbert. He has few equals and none whom I would accept as his superior.

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