The Night of the Twelfth by Michael Gilbert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"But these are all lies: men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love."
(William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 4, Scene 1, as quoted by one of The Night of the Twelfth characters).
Although Michael Gilbert's The Night of the Twelfth won the Current Crime's Silver Cup for the best British crime novel of 1976 I do not find it that remarkable. This solid, erudite and well-written novel of suspense cum police procedural is indeed a pleasure to read, yet it is far from exceptional. For instance, in the same year my favorite British mystery author, Nicolas Freeling, published
, also far from a masterpiece but more memorable than The Night.
The night of June 12 (of probably 1975), Brading, West Sussex, south of London. The body of a missing 10-year-old boy has been found and it bears signs of torture. Since this is the third similar murder the police task force, "Operation Huntsman," moves into highest gear. The plot switches to Trenchard House preparatory school, located not that far from the place where the boy's body was found: we meet the headmaster, several teachers, and the school staff who are getting acquainted with a new instructor. Trenchard House is not just an ordinary prep school: many of its pupils are children of important people - one of the kids is the son of an Israeli ambassador. When Jordanian terrorists break into the Israeli Embassy in London and hold three people hostage the police offers protection for the school pupils and the personnel, who are in the middle of rehearsals for the school production of Twelfth Night (note the title). Eventually, as expected, there emerges a connection between the murders and the school and the denouement is precipitated by one of the boys' terrifying experience. In fact, though, the solution of the murders case is found independently by three different people, which is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the novel.
Great characterizations of a very interesting cast of characters make the reader feel these are real people not just devices that move the plot. Particularly the boys, aged about fourteen and younger, are shown vividly and oh-so plausibly, especially when they talk like adults who they believe are not as smart as they are. Yet the plot itself is not that interesting and an impatient reader may easily lose focus. For my taste there is a bit too much of the characters talking about the case: the plot should rather talk through the facts. Only the ending is quite exciting and it includes a sort of car chase, which - in a coincidence that I have found pretty funny - involves members of police force from Crawley, West Sussex, where at that exact time in 1975 Robert Smith himself, the leader of The Cure and focus of the book I have reviewed here just over a week ago
was attending St Wilfrid's Comprehensive School.
Two and three quarter stars.
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