Smallbone Deceased

“The thoughts of all present tonight,” said Mr. Birley, ‘will naturally turn first to the great personal loss – the very great personal loss – so recently suffered by the firm, by the legal profession and, if I may venture to say so without contradiction, by the British public.’ No one did contradict him; partly, no doubt, owning to the fact that Mr. Birley was personally responsible for the salaries of the greater number of those present, but also because the principal speaker at a staff dinner very rarely is contradicted; Mr. Birley, therefore, proceeded.”

Smallbone Deceased
By Michael Gilbert
Source: Personal copy

Monday evening Henry Bohun finds himself at a dinner with the solicitors of Horniman, Birley and Craine and some of their associates and acquaintances. As the speeches are delivered in honor of the late Mr. Abel Horniman, Henry looks around the tables and tries to get a picture of what his work will be like with the firm as he’s only recently joined not realizing that his work is going to be more than just deeds and trusts.

The following day, the first order of business means finding a trustee who needs to come in and sign some documents. Bob Horniman, son of Mr. Abel, sends out his secretary to look for the trustee, Mr. Smallbone. He remember his dad didn’t like him much but his signature is needed. Unfortunately, Miss Cornel isn’t able to locate him. Another day passes and the office is abuzz with work as usual until a woman’s scream interrupts all activity.

While continuing to look for documents, a sealed deed box is opened and instead of finding documents the body of Mr. Smallbone is discovered. Chief Inspector Hazlerigg, with the help of Henry Bohun, start to get a feel for inner workings of the firm and the employees, unfortunately not before another crime is committed.

This legal crime novel which was published in 1950 is listed in the 100 best crime novels of the 2oth century. I feel like the inner workings of office life of that era were on point. For example, you had secretaries taking notes and answering phones and larger, corner offices meant for senior partners. I was also delighted to see a map of the office layout included. While legal mysteries are not my favorite, and there were many characters to keep track of right from the first pages, I found myself enjoying  the characters, the red herrings and of course finding out whodunit.

**This also counts for the Back to the Classics Reading challenge, 20th Century classic category.

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