Friday Forgotten Book – Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens

Michael Gilbert, Penguin, 1982 paperback

“It was six o’clock, on as foul a morning as could be imagined. In Warsaw it was raining, in the way it rained just before the rain turned to sleet and the sleet to the first snow of winter.”   –   “Emergency Exit” Calder & Behrens cvr sml

This collection of twelve spy stories by British mystery author Michael Gilbert  was first published in 1982 by Hodder & Stoughton in Great Britian and by Harper & Row in the U.S. The Penguin Crime edition shown here was published a year later.

When I hear the phrase “spy story” the first thing that comes to mind is fiction by Eric Ambler, Len Deighton and Helen MacInnes. Then I think of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. And there are the excellent if occasionally difficult espionage novels by John LeCarré

Perhaps a better term for these stories is counter-intelligence. Whatever label you affix, these are terrific stories.

I’d heard of these stories long before I read “The Road to Damascus” (not in this collection) in Muller & Pronzini’s very enjoyable collection Detective Duos. Reading that was the catalyst for me to hunt up a copy of this one. I read it with delight. When I was done, I wished for more, and that’s a high compliment for any book. These are good stories, the writing is crisp, the Calder and Behrens (and Rasselas, their Persian Deerhound) characters are likable and the stories clever and entertaining. I like the way Gilbert’s characters resolve the problems he puts in their way. The spy business is a no-nonsense game, and these men appraoch it as such, yet there is a trace of sry humor under the surface. They use force when necessary, with immediacy, seemingly in contrast to their otherwise mild personalities. Very enjoyable and highly recommended.

This is my 11th entry in a series of Friday Forgotten Books.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more FFB reviews at her own blog, along with a complete list of today’s participating blogs.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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11 Responses to Friday Forgotten Book – Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens

  1. Patti Abbott says:

    Although I know I read some Gilbert, I don’t remember this one. Love the cover and title.

  2. Richard says:

    Gilbert writes a variety of things, Patti, I like most everything of his I’ve read, including the Crippen & Landru collection, but these are favorites.

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Good choice, Rick. I’ve read all the Gilbert stories I’ve been able to find, including this and the earlier Calder & Behrens collection, Game Without Rules.

    There are also a couple of books featuring his policeman, Patrick Petrella (Petrella at Q and Young Petrella), Anything for a Quiet Life, and the two Crippen & Landru collections, The Man Who Hated Banks and The Curious Conspiracy.

    The man was a master.

  4. Drongo says:

    Rick, I’ve never read him, but my late mother, who was quite an aficionado of British mystery novels, thought Gilbert was wonderful. Your comments on him would have delighted her.

  5. Richard says:

    Jeff – I have this book, the C&L collections, and I found a copy of GAME WITHOUT RULES just recently but it’s unread.

  6. Richard says:

    Drongo – Thank you for that. My sympathies. I wish my mother had read mystery fiction, but she was a best seller reader. We rarely were able to discuss what we were reading. This one is really quite good and well worth a try.

  7. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Funny, my mother still reads the best seller list books, but since many of them are mysteries I often get phone calls when she discovers a “new” author, like Michael Connelly or Lee Child.


  8. All the Calder and Behrens stories have been collected in a 2007 British edition titled EVEN MURDERERS TAKE A HOLIDAY AND OTHER MYSTERIES.

  9. Richard says:

    Unfortunately, George, that book is unavailable as either a new or used copy, as far as I can see, in either the U.K. or U.S. If you locate a new copy, FE or not, I want it.

  10. Frank Denton says:

    Wonderful choce, Rick. I’ve been a long-time fan of Gilbert. And the Calder and Behrens stories are the best. Well, the Petrella stories are pretty darn good, too. With Gilbert you can’t go wrong.

  11. Richard says:

    Thanks, Frank. I don’t know how many people are familiar with these stories, but they are certainly worth reading. Really great character construction – a strength of Gilbert – and clever plot lines in tight packages.

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