Gilbert was a lawyer in London for many years and at one point had Raymond Chandler as his client. He had a very long and very productive writing career, beginning with his first novel, Close Quarters, in 1946 and continuing through 1999 with Over and Out. He wrote almost every sort of mystery and thriller, perhaps spreading himself too thin over too many fields to achieve the reputation that many critics felt he deserved. He wrote police procedurals, spy novels and short stories, courtroom dramas, classical mysteries, adventure thrillers, crime novels, and almost every possible combination of these, all with the same competence and dry, detached wit.
Perhaps among his very best books are two collections of short stories about two gentlemanly but exceedingly hard-boiled fictional British counterspies, Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens, "middle-aged cut-throats" as one of their adversaries bitterly refers to them. One of his earliest novels, Smallbone Deceased, is also highly regarded by many.
Michael Gilbert was educated at Blundell's School and the University of London, where he read Law. After a spell teaching at a prep school, he joined the Honourable Artillery Company when war broke out, serving in North Africa and Italy. In 1943 he was captured and imprisoned in northern Italy, escaping after the Italian surrender.
He is the father of the writer and broadcaster Harriett Gilbert and the Independent journalist Gerard Gilbert.