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.