Tuesday 14 January 2014

Michael Gilbert Joins British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s

When last I left my British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s gallery, the number of dust jackets and paperback covers therein stood at an impressive 120. But I've still not exhausted my supply of '70s and '80s thrillers, and at the head of the queue to join the gallery is Michael Gilbert.

I've written about Gilbert in any depth just twice before, when I reviewed his 1956 spy thriller Be Shot for Sixpence last year, and his 1968 collection of espionage short stories featuring middle-aged spies Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens, Game Without Rules, the year before. But though he's only cropped up a handful of times on Existential Ennui in total, behind the scenes I've quietly been collecting all manner of Michael Gilbert first editions, the selection in this post merely representing those that fit the remit of British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s (i.e. they were published in the '70s and '80s). The remainder of those books – some of which are highly intriguing – will have to wait for another time; for now, here are the Michael Gilbert jackets – all of which wrap the British firsts of the novels – which have joined the British thriller cover design gallery.

The Body of a Girl (Hodder & Stoughton, 1972); jacket design by Rene Brown
An impulse online purchase this one, bought for a few quid from an Amazon Marketplace seller after a first edition I was watching on eBay sold for more than I was prepared to pay. Gilbert also wrote a 1958 television play with the same title, although whether the novel is based on the play I've not been able to determine. The novel's lead, DCI Mercer, would go on to feature in three short stories in the 1997 collection The Man Who Hated Banks and Other Mysteries (that info gleaned from Martin Edwards's fine overview of Michael Gilbert's life and work).

The Empty House (Hodder, 1978); dust jacket uncredited
I believe I bought this one off the legend that is Jamie Sturgeon, at the Midhurst Book Fair. Like most of the books in this post, I've yet to read The Empty House, but should you wish to learn more about it (other than reading the jacket flap copy above), there's a brief but illuminating review by author Dana Stabenow on her website.

Death of a Favourite Girl (Hodder, 1980); jacket design by Melvyn Gill
A holiday purchase, as featured in the Framlingham leg of the Jones-Day 2013 Suffolk vacation. Death of a Favourite Girl was published in the States (the same year as the Hodder edition, by Harper & Row) under the title The Killing of Katie Steelstock, a title which was subsequently adopted for the British paperback edition, published by Penguin in 1981.

Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens (Hodder, 1982); dust jacket uncredited
Gilbert's second collection of Calder and Gilbert espionage short stories, following Game Without Rules. I shall be coming back to this one...

Trouble (Hodder, 1987); jacket by McNab Design
A Lewes Book Bargain, no less, purchased in Lewes' A&Y Cumming secondhand bookshop a good few years ago now.

Young Petrella (Hodder, 1988); dust jacket uncredited
Another short story collection, this one focusing Sergeant Patrick Petrella's adventures – the second such collection, in fact, the first being 1977's Petrella at Q. The jacket photograph uses a similar device to that on the Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens wrapper, with the titles of the stories within shown as, respectively, notes on a pad and filing cabinet dividers. I wouldn't be at all surprised if both were the work of the same photographer – and possibly Death of a Favourite Girl, too, which would make all three the work of Melvyn Gill.

I'll be staying with Michael Gilbert for the next post, which will be on the aforementioned Calder and Behrens...


  1. Thrilled to hear you are stockpiling Michael Gilbert books. Can't wait to read and see more. Just started The Black Seraphim myself.

  2. Very nice set of covers. I like to collect covers too but I mostly stick with paperbacks because of the price. I just finished reading The Danger Within, and really enjoyed it. Otherwise haven't read much Michael Gilbert or I read them so long ago I can't remember. I bought several at a book sale so hope to read more this year. Looking forward to the post on Calder and Behrens, as I do like espionage stories, although I usually stay away from short stories.

  3. BG: that's one I don't have. You should post a review when you're done. Also, you get a mention in the next post.

    Tracy: over half of the books in this post I bought for three quid each; you'd be surprised by how cheap many first editions are. As for Calder and Behrens, they're among the best spy stories I've read – terrific stuff.