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Research Papers on The Cleaners

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Michael Gilbert’s The Cleaners (1977) is an excellent example of modern British detective fiction, less concerned with the brilliance of the socialite freelance detective (ala Sherlock Holmes or The Saint) and relying more on the modern techniques and situations faced by the modern metropolitan police force. Gilbert’s novella features Detective Inspector Patrick Petrella, who has the great distinction in this story of not solving the crime.

The Cleaners

The Cleaners starts off with a coroner’s inquest into the death of Bernie Nicholls, a case that is not in Petrella’s jurisdiction.  Petrella is in the courtroom for another case, and the officers whose jurisdiction the case is, asks for Petrella’s assistance.  Gilbert, throughout the story, is commenting on the modern facets of the police force, from high case loads that force the detectives to work cases piecemeal, cooperating as teams to gather bits of evidence here and there, to the competing divisions within the force, divisions that mean that fellow officers are not given access to all the facts in the case.

Petrella begins to look into the death of Nicholls, an investigation that leads him to Lloyd & Lloyd, a London real estate brokerage.  The sale of his flat at a profit raises the suspicions of his superiors, as Petrella’s bank account (like all senior police officers do in order to catch illegal activity).  Petrella’s deposit includes marked bills from a payroll heist.

Petrella and his associates focus in on Mr. Lloyd’s assistant Tom Adams, a criminal convicted for fraud, now working under an assumed name.  Petrella’s dealings with Lloyd and Lloyd over the sale of his flat have put him in a delicate position, if Tom Adams is legit, Petrella’s interference would mean he was “guilty of persecuting an innocent man who had fought his way back from crime to respectability”.

As Petrella’s investigation unfolds, it seems more and more apparent that Tom Adams is indeed guilty; conspiring with known criminals to rob payrolls and launder the money through Lloyd & Lloyd.  As Petrella closes in, Tom Adams disappears with a large sum of money.  Petrella now suspects his superiors are on the take.  The novella weaves a complex web of the following that Petrella seems to have uncovered despite the disproval of his superiors:

  • Murder
  • Sex
  • Robbery
  • Bribery
  • Money laundering

That is until the big brass tells Petrella that Adams is an insider, working for the police.  Petrella’s assumptions are proven totally wrong, and the case is closed without his assistance.  What has happened is that police departmentalization has led to the non-sharing of information, and a great waste of time on the part of Petrella and his detectives.

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