Friday, 22 February 2008

Michael Gilbert

After mentioning Michael Gilbert several times in this blog, I wanted to say something about the influence he exerted on my writing career. When I first came across his novels in the late 60s, they were in a uniform edition that included a biographical note which explained that he combined his writing with a career as a solicitor. He wrote his books on the train, commuting to work in a prestigious London law firm.

My parents were, at the time, worried about my stated ambition to write detective novels. They didn’t want me to starve, so they thought it would be a good idea for me to have a proper job. In the legal profession, for instance. Cunningly (for they too liked Michael Gilbert) they pointed out that it was possible to combine a legal career with crime writing. And I was duly persuaded, although I’ve never written a word when commuting to work (tricky, when you are driving on the M6.)

Shortly after I became a solicitor I started writing legal articles for'The Law Society’s Gazette' and eventually I persuaded the editor to let me write an article about Michael Gilbert. By this time, I’d read every novel he’d written, as well as many of his first rate short stories. The chance to interview my hero by telephone arrived, and it was tremendous fun to speak to him at long last. He was, predictably, urbane, charming and highly articulate. The perfect interviewee.

I’ve written several more articles about him over the years. After I became a published crime writer, he offered me encouragement and even contributed a very supportive quote for the book cover after reading Eve of Destruction – a gesture that meant a good deal to me. The last time we were in touch, he was well into his 90s and very infirm, but happy to grant me permission to include his classic London Underground mystery ‘A Case for Gourmets’ in an anthology I was editing.

There’s much more to say about a man who had such a distinguished and lengthy literary career. Future posts will focus on both his novels and his short stories. I owe Michael Gilbert a lot, but above all for the reading pleasure he continues to give.


Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Martin, have you read Gilbert's collection of essays _Crime in Good Company: Essays on Criminals and Crime-Writing_ (1959)? I understand it is excellent.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It is so sad that when I checked my local library, his name does not appear. He wrote so many books and ten years later, he doesn't exist. There must be a way to keep these names alive. I remember particularly The Night of the Twelfth.

Martin Edwards said...

Elizabeth, it's a terrific collection and Gilbert's essay on 'The Moment of Violence' is one of several highlights. There's also a very good essay by Cyril Hare on the classic form. If you haven't read it, you have a treat in store.
Patti, I certainly agree. Even before he died, he was becoming neglected. He shared with me his disappointment at the lack of interest in The Queen and Karl Mullen, and I found the critical neglect baffling.