This is a revised version of a post that originally appeared in The Broken Bullhorn
Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens by Michael Gilbert
Penguin Crime, 1982 paperback
“It was six o’clock, on as foul a morning as could be imagined. In Warsaw it was raining, in the way it rained just before the rain turned to sleet and the sleet to the first snow of winter.”
– “Emergency Exit”
This collection of twelve spy stories by British mystery author Michael Gilbert was first published in 1982 by Hodder & Stoughton in Great Britian and by Harper & Row in the U.S. The Penguin Crime edition shown here was published a year later.
When I hear the phrase “spy story” the first thing that comes to mind is fiction by Eric Ambler, Len Deighton and Helen MacInnes. Then I think of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. And there are the excellent if somewhat difficult espionage novels by John LeCarré
Perhaps a better term for these Calder and Behrens stories is counter-intelligence. Whatever label you affix, these are terrific.
I’d heard of these stories long before I read “The Road to Damascus” (not in this collection) in Muller & Pronzini’s very enjoyable collection Detective Duos. Reading that was the catalyst for me to hunt up a copy of this one, and I read it with delight. When I was done, I wished for more, and from me, that’s a high compliment for any book. These are good stories, the writing is crisp, the Calder and Behrens (and Rasselas, their Persian Deerhound) are likable characters and the stories clever and entertaining. I like the way Gilbert’s characters resolve the problems he puts in their way. The spy business is a no-nonsense game, and these men approach it as such, yet there is a trace of wry humor under the surface. They use force when necessary, with immediacy, seemingly in contrast to their otherwise mild personalities. Very enjoyable and highly recommended.
I read the first book of short stories about this pair, Game Without Rules. I agree, the stories are very good. I have this book and read a few but haven’t read all of them. Now you have reminded me to get back to them.
Richard, I enjoy reading John Le Carré and the depth he brings to his spy fiction, but I agree his novels can be “difficult” to read. His plots are often complex but that’s only because of my lack of understanding. Michael Gilbert is another author I still have to read.
As I said the first time, this is a GREAT choice. I’ve liked all the Gilbert books I’ve read (granted, not that many as a percentage), but you absolutely can’t go wrong with any of his short story collections. The Calder and Behrens stories are probably the best of the lot.
I’ve had a copy of MR. CALDER AND MR. BEHRENS on my shelves for years. Like Jeff, I’ve enjoyed all the Michael Gilbert novels and short stories I’ve read over the years. After reading your fine review, I wanted to drop everything and read some Michael Gilbert! There will be a Michael Gilbert FFB in a month or two on my blog!
“… these are terrific.” Indeed!