SMALLBONE DECEASED – Michael Gilbert

Maine Colonial offers a different kind of mystery in her review of SMALLBONE DECEASED. This book is different from those that I read, making this a terrific review for this blog.  As the title of the blog indicates, there are all types of mysteries and all types of mystery books.  Enjoy this one.

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Henry Bohun, WW2 veteran, former statistician, insomniac and newly licensed lawyer has joined the small, prestigious firm of Horniman, Birley and Craine. His first firm event is a memorial lunch for founding partner Abel Horniman, recently deceased from a heart condition. Not a very lively way to begin, but that is soon cured when the weeks-dead body of firm client Mr. Smallbone is discovered in a sealed deed box.

Enter Inspector Hazlerigg and his colleagues, who request Bohun’s assistance with inside intelligence. It is apparent that the murder was an inside job, leaving as suspects six lawyers, five secretaries and three staff members.

Like many traditional mysteries of its time, SMALLBONE DECEASED is a “fair play” story. All the clues are provided and the painstaking reader can have a good notion of whodunnit and how.  Gilbert provides a drawing of the offices, details about schedules, alibis, habits and clue-laden conversations. Hazlerigg’s investigation and the Bohun’s intelligence gleaned from his work and contacts with his colleagues each provide pieces of the puzzle.

Unlike most modern mysteries, this is a short book without a great deal of detailed character development. This is not to say that the characters are cardboard cutouts. Gilbert provides a few details that, together with conversations, allow the reader to use his or her own imagination to picture the individuals easily.

Gilbert’s writing style is dryly humorous. Take this passage, in which Bohun is attempting to learn the meaning of the Horniman Case Index Card method, a system that reduces each action in every case to a series of cryptic codes on an index card:

“Henry Bohun, having dismissed Miss Porter, was once more staring thoughtfully at the little stack of cards on the desk in front of him, trying to relate them in some comprehensible manner to his allotted share of that morning’s post. The more he read them the less they seemed to mean, but finding that there were fifty-two of them he dealt our four bridge hands and came to the conclusion that he could make three no trumps without difficulty on his holding, which included such obvious winners as “The Duchess of Ashby de la Zouche—(questions relating to her claims for Dower),” “Lieutenant-General Fireside’s Marriage Settlement No. 3,” (his third marriage or his third settlement, Henry wondered), and most promising, “The Reverend the Metropolitan of Albania—Private Affairs.””

This is probably the kind of thing you either love or hate. I love it and I thoroughly enjoyed this small gem of a book.


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