Thursday, April 12, 2012
Smallbone Deceased - Michael Gilbert
This lawyers' office seems no different than many of the cubicle spotted, fluorescent lit, sterile environments I've endured over the past twenty or so years as an office drudge in a variety of hospitals, advertising firms and not-for-profit organizations. The backbiting, the secretarial gossip, the petty jealousies, the after hours office sex, the professional rivalry, the enforced weekend staffing to preserve good customer relations, and the utter absurdity of a bureaucratic office enslaved to indexing and filing systems that are continually improved upon to afford better efficiency - I have encountered it all. Nothing seems to have changed in the past fifty plus years. Even with the advent of computers and email and electronic necessities like fax and copying machines everything I read of in Gilbert's book still goes on. It's only natural that a dead body would turn up in such an atmosphere. That it should turn up in a life size deed box and that the dead body has been dead for several weeks should indicate to you the overall tone of the book. Gilbert's penchant for black humor is on exhibit in sharply drawn, acerbically funny scenes. And it's a welcome addition to this cleverly constructed puzzle.
Marcus Smallbone is the dead man in the deed box. He was a member of a trust – the Ichabod Stokes Trust to be specific. The box in which he was discovered should have held the documents for that trust. They've gone missing. An awful lot of paper to go missing, too. So who killed Marcus and what happened to those papers? Inspector Hazelrigg enlists the aid of Henry Bohun, a newly employed statistician, as a sort of informer/sidekick to get to the bottom of the dirty business in the firm.
Everything you may have read elsewhere (and it has been reviewed and discussed repeatedly all over the interweb) about this book being among Gilbert's best -- if not the best --is true. Add me to the list of readers who have dubbed it "highly recommended." Those of you out there who have endured a dreary office job, whether in a law firm or some other business, will find plenty to appreciate in the pages of Smallbone Deceased.