Death in Captivity (Michael Gilbert)

  • By Michael Gilbert
  • First published: UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1952; US: Harper, 1952, as The Danger Within

Gilbert’s extraordinary versatility is shown in this gripping detective story set in an Italian POW camp, similar to the one in which Gilbert himself had been imprisoned, and whose atmosphere and daily activities (amateur theatricals, exercise and sports matches, Gestapo tortures and attempted escapes) he memorably depicts.  The death in captivity is that of a Greek suspected of being a Nazi informant, found suffocated in a tunnel—and it soon becomes clear that the Carabinieri officer, Captain Benucci, was involved in the crime, and that there is a German Intelligence Officer in the camp.  Due to these circumstances, the detection is highly unusual, for neither the officials nor the British themselves can be trusted.  There is a nice touch of misdirection in the form of a microphone, but the murderer’s identity is not surprising.  With its wartime tension and puzzle, the book is “like trying to finish a crossword puzzle in a train going  headlong towards a crash.”


A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989): A superb, though harrowing, story of murder in a prisoner-of-war camp in northern Italy toward the end of the last world war.  The skill with which suspense is kept up during a series of trivial incidents related to oppression and plans of escape is equalled only by the management of a large number of characters, Italian and English.  It seems clear that autobiographical matter has been woven in.