Monday, April 30, 2012

Be Shot for Sixpence

BE SHOT FOR SIXPENCE – Michael Gilbert (1956)

I confess I cannot provide an objective assessment of a Michael Gilbert novel.  He’s a favorite of mine for his economical, almost terse style that nevertheless conveys just exactly the right amount of character development and plot momentum.  Be Shot for Sixpence perfectly illustrates Gilbert’s expertise at writing intriguing, thoughtful, and yet fast-paced thrillers.  The reluctant hero of this outing is Philip, who receives a cryptic message from his old friend, Colin:  “Go to Cologne, walk across the Hohenzollern Bridge.  Stand in the middle of the bridge looking down-river at nine o’clock in the morning.”

Philip, at loose ends after breaking up with his girlfriend, sees no reason why he shouldn’t go to Germany despite knowing that Colin must have been working for British intelligence and that something has surely gone wrong.  Indeed it has, and before you can say “You should have stayed in London and patched things up with your girl,” Philip is embroiled in international intrigue behind the Iron Curtain.  There’s a dubious fellow named Piper, and a yet more dubious fellow named Lady, a plausible chap called Messelin, and an agreeable young lady named True, but sorting out the divided loyalties of this group is a challenge for Philip.  Expect a bit of derring-do and double crosses before Philip gets to the bottom of the mysterious message from Colin.

Michael Gilbert is one of my "Persons of Interest" entries in Bev's Vintage Mystery Challenge.  Gilbert was a  London attorney who dabbled in writing mysteries and thrillers while practicing law.  I don't know anything about his expertise as a lawyer, but his writing was superb.  He was a tough character, having endured some time as a POW in Italy during WWII, an experience which he uses to great effect in Be Shot for Sixpence.  My favorite anecdote about Gilbert:  when his daughter told him she was going to write novels, he said:  "For God's sake, don't use adverbs."  You'll find the quote near the end of  his obituary in The Telegraph.


  1. Elmore Leonard has an adverb hang-up, too. His tongue-in-cheek rule "Never use adverbs" hints that his antipathy for them is not so serious.

    I need to read more Gilbert. I have four books in a pile next to my couch - all Michael Gilbert books. But I keep reading 1950s suspense books. Need to kick that habit quickly. (...snicker, snicker...)

  2. Michael Gilbert is a favorite of mine too. Haven't read this one yet....will need to fix that.

  3. John,

    Gilbert is terrific, and I think you'll like both his mysteries and thrillers. Get after that pile.

  4. Bev,

    I'm still hunting down a few of his books, and I'm always thrilled to find a new one.