Tuesday 7 March 2017

The Terrorists, alias Double, Double: a Calder and Behrens Story by Michael Gilbert

Among the 185 short stories that British crime and mystery author Michael Gilbert wrote over the course of his 50-year career are 24 spy stories starring Daniel Calder and Samuel Behrens, malevolent late middle-aged operatives of the External Branch of the Joint Services Standing Intelligence Committee. Originally published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in the US and Argosy in the UK, almost all of the Calder and Behrens stories were collected in two Gilbert anthologies – the sublime Game Without Rules (1967) and the almost as brilliant Mr. Calder & Mr. Behrens (1982). (Gilbert also wrote 16 radio plays featuring his ageing secret agents, which I discussed last month.) But there is one Calder and Behrens story which doesn't feature in either of those books. It first appeared in 1967 under the title "The Terrorists" in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and "Double, Double" in Argosy, before being collected in this anthology:

Ellery Queen's Mystery Parade, published by Gollancz in 1969 under one of that publisher's iconic yellow typographic dust jackets. Being a UK edition of a US collection – the book was originally published by New American Library in the States in 1968 – the title of "The Terrorists" was retained; it wasn't until 2007 that the story was published in book form under its British title of "Double, Double", when it was included in the posthumous Michael Gilbert collection Even Murderers Take Holidays.

I'm not sure why it wasn't collected in the 1982 Calder and Behrens anthology (it appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Argosy too late to have been included in Game Without Rules) but I can hazard a guess or two. In Argosy, it was published under the overarching series title of "Agents in Action" in the April 1967 issue. Part one of that series, "Upon the King", was published in the March issue and collected in Game Without Rules, while part three, "Twilight of the Gods", was published in the May issue and collected in Mr. Calder & Mr. Behrens, so perhaps "The Terrorists" fell between two stools. Or it could be that it was simply overlooked; on first inspection, Calder and Behrens barely seem to feature at all in the story, merely getting a couple of mentions towards the end.

In fact for the unsuspecting Calder/Behrens enthusiast only a passing reference to Fortescue – Calder and Behrens' boss – at the start of the tale gives the game (without rules) away that "The Terrorists" is a part of their canon. The pair do appear throughout, but under assumed names and identities, both of them operating undercover as a means of unpicking a plot by a middle-eastern terrorist cell to set off a bomb in London (there's a nice, explicitly acknowledged, bit of misdirection as to which of the terrorists Calder and/or Behrens is). It's a good story, well worth the effort, I would say – at least for those aforementioned Calder/Behrens enthusiasts – of tracking it down – something that shouldn't prove too difficult for anyone so inclined; while the Gollancz edition is pretty scarce and the New American Library edition not much more common, there are at least half a dozen copies of the 1969 Signet paperback edition available online as I type, and fairly cheaply too.

For my part, having now collected and read "The Terrorists", Game Without Rules and Mr. Calder & Mr. Behrens (and the two published radio plays in The Murder of Diana Devon), I'm left in the sorry situation of having no more Calder and Behrens stories to track down. At least, that I'm aware of...

Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 10/4/17.