Friday 15 May 2020

Forgotten Book - After the Fine Weather

Michael Gilbert used to tease his fellow detective novelists by saying that it was harder to write thrillers than it is to write detective novels. He was unusual in that he was equally accomplished whether writing classic whodunits or stories of action and adventure (or, come to that, police procedurals or spy stories). After the Fine Weather was published in 1963, four years after his previous novel, which was a London-based police story, Blood and Judgement. This book could hardly be more different from its predecessor.

The setting is Lienz, a tiny Austrian province on the border of South Tyrol. After an introductory chapter which follows the release from prison of a brutish chap called Albin Boschetto, Gilbert switches focus, as we meet twenty-year-old Laura, who is in Rome, and about to travel to Lienz to meet her brother Charles, who is a diplomat.

One of the interesting features about this story, which I think was unusual at the time it was written, is that it's an action thriller with a strong and likeable female protagonist. Laura is a good character, and Gilbert's presentation of her is appealing. Before long, she witnesses an assassination, and although the local authorities have picked their own scapegoat for the killing, she insists that someone else was responsible. The tension mounts from there.

Like all Gilbert's novels, this one is written with great assurance. One of the quaint features is the absence of communications when Lienz is cut off from the rest of Austria by snow. No internet, no mobile phones, nothing like that. The sense of people being dependent on their own personal resources is strong in this story, and it makes for an entertaining read. When I first read it, as a teenager, I was slightly underwhelmed. Belatedly, I've revised my opinion. It's a pity that Laura never returned.

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