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Death in Captivity

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  273 ratings  ·  52 reviews
While it has many of the elements of the classic detective story, it is also a gripping novel of mounting suspense that takes place in a 1943 prisoner of war camp for British officers in northern Italy—it was the first of Gilbert's numerous later works that would feature suspense and danger as much or more as elements of detection. Gilbert himself had been a British office ...more
Paperback, British Library Crime Classics, 269 pages
Published February 10th 2019 by The British Library (first published 1952)
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Average rating 4.15  · 
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Feb 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Published in 1952, this novel straddles a, straight-forward, Prisoner of War escape adventure, with a mystery. The book is set in 1943, in a prisoner-of-war camp for British officers in Northern Italy. Half of the prisoners are idly sitting out the war – arranging amateur theatricals, playing rugby or cricket, and giving lectures. The other half, even if also engaged in some of these activities, are far more interested in escaping. Attempts to jump the fence, or tunnel their way out abound. It i ...more
Mar 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an absorbing story about soldiers as prisoners of war in Italy. There is a murder of an unpopular soldier believed to be collaborating with the Italian command. This was written by a man who had been a prisoner of war himself and the details of camp life were fascinating and how motivated the men were to escape.
Nov 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I watched the splendid movie based on this novel a few days ago, Danger Within (1959), dir Don Chaffey and featuring a galaxy of British stars (all male); my discussion of it will be posted on my Noirish site in January or February and, if I remember, I'll pop back here and add the link. Watching the movie made me realize it had been far too long since I'd read me some Michael Gilbert -- his Smallbone Deceased is a guilty pleasure that I've read ever decade or so since my late teens, and the oth ...more
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An excellent read. A locked room murder set in a POW escape tunnel. This book gives a fascinating insight into life in, and trying to escape, a POW camp.
Jan 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
Simply wonderful! The Great Escape meets Lord Peter Wimsey. I'm researching more Michael Gilbert books to read because I'm his newest fan. ...more
Susan in NC
3.5 stars for this interesting WWII thriller set in a POW camp For British officers in Italy. I read this with the Reading the Detectives group, and one of our members summed this unique setting up as the British prisoners trying to recreate their public school experiences through activities like amateur theater productions and sports. It wasn’t the POW experience of Bridge over the River Kwai, or Hogan’s Heroes, that’s for sure!

Author Gilbert was a POW and did escape, so I’m assuming his descri
2020 bk 4. Sometime around 1968, a public librarian noticed me checking out a stack of Agatha Christie and asked "Have you ever tried Michael Gilbert." He was another prolific mid-century mystery/adventure author who I search out. Recently I found this title, one I hadn't read before. This is an excellent 'locked door mystery', albeit the story is a locked tunnel mystery set in a WWII POW camp in Italy. An excellent story - and one modeled on his own experiences. It wasn't until I read the forew ...more
May 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, thriller, crime
A locked tunnel mystery...

It’s 1943, and the British officers held in a prisoner-of-war camp in north Italy take their duty to escape seriously, so the camp is riddled with tunnels. The biggest and most hopeful of these is under Hut C, elaborately hidden under a trapdoor that takes several men to open. So when a body turns up in the tunnel the question is not only how did he die but also how did he get into the tunnel? The dead man is Cyriakos Coutoules, a Greek prisoner who was widely unpopular
Iona Sharma
Aug 05, 2020 added it
Shelves: 2020
Not strictly a detective novel as much as a thriller, though there is a murder and detective of sorts. The British officers in an Italian POW camp in 1943 are, naturally, trying to tunnel their way out, and are a little startled to find a dead guy in the Hut C tunnel. Cue hijinks while they try and figure out how the man was killed and put in the escape tunnel without any of them knowing. The book is unashamedly played for comedy throughout: the POWs argue constantly and want to know why their r ...more
Eva Müller
May 10, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime
If I ever end up in a prisoner of war camp I hope I'll have this book with me because it does have so much detailed and I am sure very useful information on building escape-tunnels.
Am I being a bit unfair? I guess I am but in a way, I had a similar issue with this book I had with The Colour of Murder. Is this a book in which someone gets murdered? Yes? Do we learn at the end whodunit? Yes. Does that mean it's a classic mystery? Not really. It's about the war and about spies and traitors in a PO
Annabel Frazer
Feb 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's not often you find a tense, fast-paced war thriller that's also a disciplined whodunit. Where Eagles Dare is the only other one I can think of but Death In Captivity lives up to this impressive standard.

It's set in an Italian prisoner of war camp and the author is both a former POW himself who experienced what he wrote of first-hand (only up to a point, one hopes) and, by the evidence of this book, an extremely skilled novelist. I've not read any of his other novels but I certainly want to,
May 13, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book was not easily readable. The prisoner of war experience was genuinely real for author Michael Gilbert, and this book is awkwardly paced and too real to be a successful novel. It is filled with wooden dialogue and choppy action, and I can only hope that it relieved him emotionally since the escape plans and interactions with captors must have been close to his own experiences.
Aug 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoy Michael Gilbert's books and this particular one was quite intriguing especially since he had actually experienced being a prisoner of war in Italy during WWII. I felt there was a good deal of authenticity in his descriptions and events. I liked the book and liked to have it on my Kindle - it was a good read. ...more
Mar 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: to-read-in-2020
Very good adventure/mystery story set in an Italian Prisoner of War Camp in WWII. The detective story part is good—and the murderer well-hidden—but the best parts of the book are the camp life. And the best of that is the oddness of it all: the civility and respect among most of the Italians and English soldiers (and their mutual dislike of the Germans); and the odd attempts at normalcy. I was not expecting a prisoner-only staging of The Barretts of Wimpole Street.
I should have taken note of another GRers review: Death in Captivity is definitely a story that you'll want to read in one go :)
Enjoyable vintage mystery. The forward at the being of the audiobook adds depth to the story being told.
For me, the book felt like a chance to revisit The Great Escape, though in Italy, with shades of John Buchan's Thirty-nine Steps and a dash of Agatha Christie. Plenty of red herrings and I couldn't work out who it was. Fun listening. (I did increase the speed of the b
Puzzle Doctor
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding. Thanks to BL for bringing it back. Full review at
Sep 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery
Although the book is described as a mystery novel, it's really more an escape story, with an ensemble cast rather than a single, brilliant detective. Most of the scene is in a POW camp for Allied officers n Northern Italy. The Allies have invaded Sicily and both the prisoners and their guards are getting restless. But the ruthless, Nazi-trained Carabinieri captain Benetti seems intent on playing cat-and-mouse games with the prisoners, especially when the body of a Greek prisoner is found suffoca ...more
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book. Great writing, setting, characterization. Ingenious plot. Mounting suspense. Lots of dry humour and English understatement. The short chapters make for an agile reading. Unputdownable.
Asha Stark
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely loved this. The humour was fantastic
Jul 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
British Library Crime Classics have done it again! The discovery of a locked room mystery set in a closed community written by an authentic witness to the time, place and setting is a real gift. This novel, set in an Italian Prisoner of War camp in Italy at the time of the British invasion, was written by a man who had been there, as outlined in Martin Edwards’ excellent and informative introduction. This “Second World War Mystery” manages to catch the atmosphere and reality of a large group of ...more
Dec 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read 4 other books by author Michael Gilbert, those being from his Inspectors Hazelrigg and Petrella mystery series. Death in Captivity is a unique mystery, set in a prisoner of war camp in Italy. The camp is filled with British soldiers. As most POW stories, they are digging tunnels and trying their best to escape. Into the midst of this scenario is thrust a murder mystery. A British officer, suspected by many of the other POWs of being an Italian spy, is found murdered under a fall of dir ...more
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is the second mystery novel I’ve read by Michael Gilbert from the British Library Crime Classics series, and I’ve been impressed by both. Gilbert is a skilled writer, and a pleasure to read. Most of this one is set in a POW camp in Italy during WWII. Gilbert comes by the setting honestly, as he had also spent time in an Italian POW camp. The mystery is a sort of locked room problem, except rather than a locked room, a body is found in an escape tunnel. However, the only entrance is through ...more
This book did remind me of The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill. In fact so much so I did look to see which was written first, this being 1952, and Brickman's 1950. Not only was the escape plan very similar it also included the active American.
Having said that, it was an enjoyable read. Although it was classed as British Library Crime Classic, the mystery was the secondary story in the layer, the first being the escape plans and execution. The Italians were not shown in a good light, not the fact
Oct 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: detective, blcc
Superb mixture of whodunnit and spy thriller set in a Italian prisoner of war camp . Tense, suspenseful and engrossing. The unravelling of mystery runs parallel with the events in the camp as the Italian war comes to an end and the camp inhabitants explore options of escaping once the allies land and before the Germans take control of the camp .The prose is lucid , there are amusing descriptions of the real life dodges that went on in POW camps and the suspense builds up gradually but surely
Carol Palmer
Mar 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
When I was growing up in the 50's and 60's, I knew a man who had been an American in a German WWII POW camp. He gave talks to various clubs and groups, including school children. I'm sure he toned down the horrors he experienced for the children's groups, but it was still enough to make me avoid all books and movies about POW camps! So, this is the first book I've read about life in a POW camp. And the only movie or TV show I've seen about it was Hogan's Heroes which was totally non-threatening. ...more
Mar 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Intriguing murder mystery set in an Italian prisoner of war camp towards the end of WWII. When an unpopular prisoner is found dead in an escape tunnel under the camp, 'Cuckoo' Goyles must investigate the murder without drawing the attention of the authorities to the tunnel.

This was an enjoyable and well constructed mystery with two strands - the murder and the plan to
escape the camp - and Gilbert skilfully brings them together. He also does a good job of distinguishing between the different char
May 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020, wwii
I read the American version of this book which ends with escape from an Italian POW camp, and I rather wish I had read the British version called Death in Captivity which ends with three officers' trek across Italy after the escape. I would have liked the resolution that journey would provide. Apparently the book is based on Gilbert's own experiences during WW II and as a POW in an Italian camp; it certainly has a tone (and insights) that suggests personal experience. A traitor in their midst. A ...more
This is not the usual British Library Crime Classics, it's a thriller with a locked room aspect.
I liked the book because of the unusual setting, the great description of the life in a POW camp and the fast pace.
It's a book that aged well, with a great mystery, fast paced and challenging.
I look forward to reading other books by this author as this one was great.
Highly recommended!
Many thanks to the publisher and Edelweiss for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
Mrs Lena
May 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Convincingly written

This is a crime story that is also a WW2 story but I was pleasantly surprised that it was such an easy read for someone who does not generally enjoy war stories. The plot though seemingly a little unlikely was written in a convincing way and I was motivated to read to the end to learn how the characters fared.
Nov 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: crime
A very gripping "locked room" mystery set in the unusual surroundings of an Italian prisoner of war camp. The author uses his own experiences in one to give what seems a very authentic picture of life as a prisoner of war which adds a lot of depth to the mystery and eventual thriller elements. A very enjoyable read. ...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Born in Lincolnshire in 1912, Michael Francis Gilbert was educated in Sussex before entering the University of London where he gained an LLB with honours in 1937. Gilbert was a founding member of the British Crime Writers Association, and in 1988 he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America - an

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