Michael Gilbert Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Michael Gilbert’s career spanned more than half a century (his first book was actually written in 1930) and covered a wide range, including close to thirty novels, three or four hundred short stories (his favorite form), several stage plays, and many television and radio plays. Hence, as Gilbert himself said, it “is impossible in a brief space to make any useful summary” of his works. Gilbert was proud of treating “lightly and amusingly many subjects that would not have been touched thirty years ago.” He asked, “What is a writer to do if he is not allowed to entertain?”

Ellery Queen praised Gilbert as the “compleat professional,” one who was “in complete control of his material,” whose plots originated from a compassionate knowledge of people and a “first-hand knowledge of law, war, and living, nourished by a fertile imagination that never fails him.” He called Gilbert’s writing droll, his wit dry, his characterizations credible. Anthony Boucher, critic for The New York Times, labeled Gilbert’s collection of spy stories Game Without Rules (1967) “short works of art,” in fact “the second best volume of spy short stories ever published,” outranked only by W. Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden: Or, The British Agent (1928). Others called Gilbert one of the finest of the post-World War II generation of detective writers. He had the disconcerting ability to mix the elegant and the harsh, to charm with witty exchanges, and to shock with amoral realism. He wrote about the work of divisional detectives and police foot soldiers and the potential contributions of the general public, subjects that were largely neglected by other mystery and detective authors. He captured the resilience of the young, the suspicions of the old, the humanity of police officers, and the drama of the court.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Bargainnier, Earl F. Twelve Englishmen of Mystery. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1984. Gilbert is one of the twelve British mystery writers who form the subject of this study.

Dove, George N. The Police Procedural. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1982. Compares Gilbert’s police-procedural fiction to the work of other writers in the subgenre. Bibliographic references and index.

Gilbert, Michael. Interview by Mike Stotter. Mystery Scene 53 (May-June, 1996): 30-31, 66. Brief but illuminating interview with the author.

Gilbert, Michael. “Quantity and Quality.” In Colloquium on Crime: Eleven Renowned Mystery Writers Discuss Their Work, edited by Robin W. Winks. New York: Scribner, 1986. Gilbert’s take on both his own fiction and the craft of mystery fiction as such.

Gilbert, Michael. “Quite Simply a Great Man.” In Julian Symons Remembered: Tributes from Friends, collected by Jack Walsdorf and Kathleen Symons. Council Bluffs, Iowa: Yellow Barn Press, 1996. Gilbert’s tribute to his fellow author is revealing of his own values and beliefs with regard to the craft of writing.

Jecks, Michael. Foreword to Crime on the Move: The Official Anthology of the Crime Writers’ Association, edited by Martin Edwards. London: Do-Not, 2005. Jecks comments on Gilbert’s story, “Case for Gourmets,” as well as on the work of twenty-one other contributors to this anthology.

Penzler, Otto. “Patrick Petrella.” In The Great Detective. Boston: Little, Brown, 1978. Argues for the place of Gilbert’s creations among history’s greatest fictional detectives.

Roth, Marty. Foul and Fair Play: Reading Genre in Classic Detective Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995. A post-structural analysis of the conventions of mystery and detective fiction. Examines 138 short stories and works from the 1840’s to the 1960’s. Helps place Gilbert in the broader genre.

Rzepka, Charles J. Detective Fiction. Malden, Mass.: Polity, 2005. An important entry in the cultural studies of police and detective fiction, looking at the genre both as revealing of and influencing the cultures that produce it. Provides a perspective for understanding Gilbert. Bibliographic references and index.