The single most impressive feature of this 90th-birthday bouquet, gathering 20 stories from Gilbert’s long career—over half the entries from the 1950s, though there are two from the ’90s—is the remarkable concision that allows such a generous and representative sample of his work to fit in such a compact space. Few of the entries, including several miniatures only a few pages long, are whodunits, or indeed conventional mysteries of any form, and these, like Chief Inspector Patrick Petrella’s undercover assignment among his own professional colleagues in “Decoy,” aren’t the most successful. Nor are anecdotes of wartime, espionage, and international intrigue like the farfetched “The Seventh Musket,” the one-note “Scream in a Soundproofed Room,” the old-school memoir “Verdict of Three,” or the rather giddy “The Sheik Goes Shopping.” The best involve either some neatly turned revenge like the plots of “The Blackmailer” or “Blood Match” or the inadvertent adventures of some bureaucrat, whether an accountant (“Audited and Found Correct”), a solicitor (the charming title story), or a policeman like Petrella (“Miss Bell’s Stocking”), who follows the trail from some trivial detail out of place to deeper waters. Though Gilbert never approaches the power of Ruth Rendell’s short fiction, his voice—which makes the best even of occasionally weak material—is equally understated, equally ironic, and, in its own way, equally authoritative.
No standouts, then, but more than enough moments of quietly satisfying crime, detection, and revenge served cold to satisfy fans who like their mayhem suave and ultracivilized.