Friday 20 February 2009

Forgotten Book - The Dust and the Heat

Michael Gilbert was such an important figure in British crime writing, and for so long, that it is hard to think that any of his books might qualify for inclusion in Patti Abbott’s series of ‘forgotten books’. But the sad fact is that memories are short, and I think it’s fairly safe to say that his 1967 stand-alone novel The Dust and the Heat is not widely remembered today.

Yet The Dust and the Heat is a characteristically interesting piece of work, and really rather original. It’s the story of Oliver Nugent, a rather macho figures who moves seamlessly from military service to warfare in the business boardroom, and proves highly effective in deploying in the commercial world the ruthless tactics he learned in the Armoured Corps. But there is a secret in his past which exposes him to the risk of blackmail – and the hunter becomes the prey.

The section of the book called ‘Giulietta v. Lucille’ is one that has long stood out in my memory as containing a clever and witty example of ingenious one-upmanship in the business world, and the book as a whole is crammed with incident and Gilbert’s trademark elegance of prose. I’m sure that Gilbert made very good use in fashioning his plot the experience he’d gained from working as a lawyer in central London, but he was always careful to distance his fictional characters from people in real life – like any good solicitor, he was keen not to be sued.

As in a number of Gilbert books, the ending of this novel is rather downbeat. When I read these novels as a teenager, that seemed to me to be a flaw, but now I recognise it as a sign of his maturity as a story-teller. He was a varied and talented crime novelist, and, although The Dust and the Heat is often overlooked, it is a good showcase for his gifts as a thoughtful entertainer.

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Another writer I read extensively in the sixties and seventies. Thanks for remembering him.