Monday, November 19, 2007

"On Slay Down", by Michael Gilbert

From: Game Without Rules. Harper & Row, 1967.

"There's a woman. She has to be killed."

Anyone slightly familiar with tallish Mr. Behrens and plumplish Mr. Calder, two retired country gentlemen, would be shocked to hear them discussing the murder of a foreign spy. Their closest associates, however, would know that they had been agents for British intelligence since before the Second World War - more than twenty years.

This particular job falls to Calder. The woman, a typist at the Air Ministry, has acquired some very sensitive documents and has requested an immediate meeting to pass them along. Fortunately this message was intercepted, and Mr. Calder will be keeping the appointment.

The woman appears right on time at a small barn in the remote countryside. Calder is already there, on a small rise above her, armed with a small caliber rifle. He's preparing to complete the assignment when a complication arises - a young Army officer in an adjacent field, out hunting for rabbits. So Calder makes a quick change of plan.

Michael Gilbert's stories about Mr. Behrens and Mr. Calder fall squarely in the old tradition of British spy stories, very reminiscent of the espionage thrillers of Geoffrey Household. There's a certain tidyness to the plots that also shows the influence of Golden Age mystery storytelling. The style is somewhat dated, but these stories are a lot of fun and always come to a satisfying conclusion.

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