Title: Death in Captivity
Author: Michael Gilbert, Introduction by Martin Edwards
First published 1952, reprint by The British Library on 10 Feb 2019
Genre: Mystery and Thriller
An unpopular prisoner, Cyriakos Coutoules, is found dead in an escape tunnel beneath the Italian prisoner-of-war camp. Henry ‘Cuckoo’ Goyles, a master tunneler, decides to take up the case.
The challenge for Goyles is to conduct a murder investigation with no help from the official police in a community where the camp’s inmates “really did know everything about everybody else”. Ultimately, he comes up with a solution to the crime neat enough to satisfy lovers of “fair play” detective fiction.
– Excerpt from Introduction to the story by Martin Edwards.
Martin Edwards’ introduction gives the reader a brief idea about what to expect from the story – A PoW camp, brutal Italian guards, a murder in the tunnel and the escapee committee. This is the first Michael Gilbert book that I read but it definitely isn’t the last! The concept of a murder – locked room mystery like scenario – in a POW camp is what made me read this book in the first place.
It was heart-wrenching to read about the lives of prisoners of war. Soldiers to prisoners – their lives must have been really bad, isn’t it? Although there weren’t any accounts of torture in this book (thankfully!), their lives were no better. Lazying in the sun, food rationing, tunneling, playing cricket or ruggers or baseball in the camp and the plays/acts once in a while.
It is a well-known fact that there were spies during the war. The rumor in the camp was that Coutoules was an informant. So, was he murdered by one of the prisoners? Or, did the Italians murder him? In that case, they would also know about the tunnel so why didn’t they stop the digging?
I absolutely loved the story. I admit I had some difficulty remembering the names of all those admirals and captains and orderlies and others but that didn’t stop me from liking the story. The real reason behind the murder was unexpected. Also, I don’t want to say more about it and make this review a spoiler but the denouement (as I like to call it) was spine-tingling! The last few chapters are where the story gets really, really tense. So many things happening at once and there’s an air of tension in the camp. Nail-biting scenario!
Be it the writing, the suspense, pacing, the plot or the characterization, Gilbert has done an excellent job in keeping his readers hooked on to the story till the end. Death in Captivity is one of the best war thriller stories that I have read so far.
If you love to read stories set in WW2 or locked room mysteries or both, then do read this book and you will not be disappointed.
By the way, did you have a look at the cover? Superb, isn’t it?
I first read about Michael Gilbert’s works on Kate’s blog. You can read her review on three of his books here.
You can read Puzzle Doctor’s review of this book here.