A bit like with my last review, I have had a mixed experience reading Michael Gilbert’s work. It started badly with Mr Calder and Mr Behrens (1982), a short story collection which put me off trying Gilbert again for quite a while. It picked up once more with Death has Deep Roots (1951) and The Danger Within (1952), the latter of which is my favourite to date and is one I would heartily recommend others to try. Then my time with Gilbert soured (again), with his heralded and much enjoyed, (by everyone else), Smallbone Deceased (1950), which I found to be an average, but by no means a classic read. However in this I am somewhat in a minority. So I wasn’t too sure what to expect with today’s read, especially considering that its type of plot is not one I would usually go for – a more modern police procedural, with a potential gang killing.
This novel begins around the start of November and some boys find an unpleasant surprise when they go hunting for wood for a bonfire in the local Water-board owned reservoir. When DS Petrella arrives at the scene he finds the body of a dead woman, who has been shot. But she is no ordinary woman, as she was the wife of well-known and on the run gangster and robber, Monk Ritchie. As Petrella and other policemen work on the case an obvious culprit rises to the surface and when this culprit is also responsible for sending one of the team to the local hospital, many of Petrella’s colleagues are after his blood. Yet Petrella is not satisfied with case, there are several unanswered questions or inconvenient facts, so he decides to do a little independent investigating of his own, (much to the anger of his superior), yet neither he nor his superiors are prepared for what he uncovers – a surprise which shocks both the reader and the characters, changing the course of the case.
So as I said this was book is not set in a preferred milieu, but despite that it wasn’t actually a bad read. I think because Gilbert wrote his mysteries across a range of milieus, this book holds back from being a fest of violence and gore and actually the case is more complex than it initially seems. Petrella is also an enjoyable and appealing protagonist to follow, which I think helped a lot. The hard nature of being a policeman is demonstrated well, in particular the tendency for being overworked, yet having insufficient resources. The trials which take place in the book are also strongly written, with the prosecution and defence putting their own spin on events. The surprise in the middle of the book worked well for me, but I think the ending of the book, although satisfying in its solution, concluded with not much impact. Nevertheless I think there was enough I liked about this book to want to try other Gilbert novels featuring Petrella.
Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Out of comfort zone