Smallbone Deceased

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(CC) Photo: Jerry Bauer
Michael Gilbert on the back cover of Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens, 1982

Smallbone Deceased is a British mystery novel by Michael Gilbert, first published in the United Kingdom in 1950 by Hodder and Stoughton and in the United States by Harper & Brothers. A practicing lawyer himself, Gilbert made the setting of the novel a London solicitor's office. It was Gilbert's fourth novel and, like his three earlier ones, features Chief Inspector Hazlerigg as the official investigator; it also has an unofficial detective who works closely with Hazlerigg, a newly qualified solicitor named Henry Bohun who has just been hired by the firm in which the murders occur. A parainsomniac (a person who needs only a very few hours of sleep per night), Bohun, whose name is pronounced Boon, makes this his only appearance in a Gilbert novel but goes on to be the protagonist of a number of short stories.

Reception and/or Appraisal

Margery H. Oates at the New York Times called it "a first-rate job" upon its publication:

When an anonymous corpse is found in a office strong box, when a trustee disappears and a young partner becomes erratic, the... atmosphere becomes tense... The author is a lawyer who looks at the law and the people in it with equal parts of mirth and wisdom. [1]

A much later appraisal comes from Barzun and Taylor's encyclopedic Catalogue of Crime:

Two splendid murders on the premise of a London solicitor. The motives ae good, and one must call excellent the detection by Inspector Hazlerigg and an amateur assistant, who enjoys parainsomnia. As a bonus we are given a method of mortgaging property already fully mortgaged, and a pleasant bit of fooling about the Ascheim-Zondek test and its antecedents. All in all, Gilbert's masterwork.[2]

The Guardian's obituary of Gilbert by H. R. F. Keating described the novel as:

a classic of the with everyday details of a law practice, both good and naughty, dancing too with pawky humour; at the same time it sets a puzzle to please the most exigent of readers.[3]

The book was ranked 64th in the The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time, published in 1990 by the British-based Crime Writers' Association.[4] Five years later, it was ranked 80th in the The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time, published by the Mystery Writers of America.[5]

The Telegraph's obituary of Gilbert also praised it as "one of his finest novels".[6]


  1. Criminals at Large: Office Intrigue, "The New York Times", 5 November 1950 at [1]
  2. Jacques Barzun & Wendell Hertig Taylor, A Catalogue of Crime, Harper & Row, New York, "Second Impression Corrected", 1973, page 209
  3. Keating, HRF. Obituary: Michael Gilbert, 10 February 2006. Retrieved on 8 May 2016.
  4. (1990) The Hatchard's Crime Companion: 100 top Crime novels. London: Hatchard. ISBN 978-0-904-03002-0. OCLC 60057335. 
  5. The Crown crime companion: the top 100 mystery novels of all time. New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks. ISBN 978-0-517-88115-6. OCLC 31605503. 
  6. Michael Gilbert, 10 February 2006. Retrieved on 8 May 2016.