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 boy (he doesn’t quite run away to join the circus, but close) through detective constable to detective sergeant. Lots of twisty plots and, always my favorite, Gilbertian wit and commentary on life, the universe and everything, as in
Petrella dozed. Behind him, Matrix Street slept the deep sleep of clear consciences and small incomes.
[A murder investigation] is a system which involves an enormous amount of work for a large number of people, and has only got one thing in its favour. It is nearly always successful in the end.
and a lovely little inside joke
[how a thief moves his goods to market]”He gets in touch with Mrs. Coulman. And informs her where he has placed the stuff. Gives her the key, or cloakroom ticket, and leaves the rest to her. It is not even necessary to give her the name of the receiver. She knows them all, and gets the bet prices. She gets paid in cash, keeps a third, and hands over two-thirds to the author of the crime.”
“Just like a literary agent,” said Farmer, who had once written a short story.
There is one real tragedy in the death of a good boy gone bad that wrung my heart, a terrific mini-whodunnit in a German spy turned transporter of stolen goods, and there is a cameo appearance by everyone’s favorite headmaster, Wilfred Wetherall (star of Gilbert’s Fear to Tread and may I just say, squee!). More than a Gilbert fan could ever want.
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Author and founder of Storyknife.org.