Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. 1990. 222 pgs.
Other books by I’ve read by Michael Gilbert: none so far, this will be remedied soon! Gilbert was a prolific writer — turning out mysteries, police procedurals, and legal stories from 1947 to two years before his death in 2006. His masterpiece is supposed to be: Smallbone Deceased. His obituary from the Guardian details his very interesting life. How did I miss this guy??
This collection of nine stories features successful London attorney Jonas Pickett who has decided to semi-retire and move his law practice down to a quaint and peaceful seaside town, Shackleton-on-Sea. Of course, Shackleton-on-Sea is not as quiet and peaceful as it appears….and some pretty un-restful murders-crimes-deaths ensue. Pickett finds his legal skills and investigative know-how as much in demand in his new retirement home as they were in London.
This delightful short collection features not just Jonas Pickett but the rest of his crew: a law partner, cool and unflappable Sabrina Mountjoy, his secretary, lively Claire Easterbrook and his bodyguard/giant Sam Conybeare. Evidently Jonas is such a cool boss that these three all just follow him from London and set up housekeeping close by in the little resort town. Sabrina, Claire and Sam all have their own back-stories and their idiosyncrasies enliven and enrich the stories — all of which might be read independently, but Gilbert weaves other local characters in and out, giving the collection a nice sense of continuity.
I loved this book because it completely transports you to another time and place. It was written in 1990, but the action might have taken place anytime — even much earlier. Crimes from World War II come back to haunt one of the town’s residents. Buried treasure from the medieval period is uncovered — or somebody tries to uncover it. A gypsy queen sets up camp on a common area of the town, and begins to predict the future — very accurately as it turns out — of one of the town’s prominent families. What ever the mystery or crime, Jonas and his team set out to solve it — and as it turns out this sort of retirement is actually what Jonas probably enjoys much more than spending his days on the golf course.
At the beginning of the book, Jonas is viewing the town from the cliffs over it facing the ocean and he and Claire talk about the view of the town.
“It’s rather snug,” said Claire, “Squeezed in between these two arms of the cliff. … It looks as though a really fierce storm would bring the sea rolling in and wash it away.”
“About six hundred years ago it did just that. The old town’s under the sea. They’ll tell you they sometimes hear the church bell ringing down under the waves. It’s a sign that something terrible’s going to happen.”
Spooky!!! Suffice it to say, we hear those bells ringing in the book, several times.