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Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Caught in the Act: Gorringe's

(More research for Caught in the Act... this is part of my research into how American magazines were distributed in the UK.)

Gorringe's Travel and News Agency boasted in 1919 that they carried the largest selection of American periodicals in London.

Frank Joshua Gorringe was born on September 5 1880 and baptized a year later, on 11 September 1871, in Chelsea, London. He was the son of Joshua Frank Gorringe, a licensed victualler, and Emma Eliza Gorringe (nee Hollot), of 617 King's Road, Fulham. Because his father was known as Frank, his son was called Joshua, and it was as Joshua F. Gorringe he is to found in the 1891 census, as a boarder at school in Little Ilford, Essex, run by Cecile Barbier and Florence Benington.

By 1911, Frank was a shipping agent, living with his brother in Chiswick, although he shortly after moved to 24 Nightingale Road, Carshalton, where he was listed in the 1913-15 telephone directories.

At the age of 38, Gorringe was married on 29 September 1918 to 23-year-old Dora Green. At that time his residence was given as Rusford Road, Streatham. In later electoral roll records the two could be found at 27 Charing Cross Mansions [fl. 1921/25], and then at 4 Acanthus Road, Battersea [fl.1927/33]. [Dora Gorringe was living in Kingston-upon-Thames in the 1960sw and is believed to have died there in 1976, aged 83.]

During this period—and at least as early as 1910—Gorringe was associated with Robert Whitfield Beaumont Daw (1869-1942), running the business of Daw's Steamship Agency—general freight insurance, railway, shipping, forwarding and general bullion and money changers—of 17 Green Street, Charing Cross Road. The partnership was dissolved by mutual consent in May 1918, with Gorringe taking on the business which, from November 1918, became known as Gorringe's Shipping and American News Agency. [Daw's Shipping Agency was struck off the company register in 1934.]

Gorringe's were like a number of firms and brought in American periodicals as part of their general business, which seemed to notably make travel arrangements for artistes journeying between America and Europe, and adverts for the company could be found in Variety.

On 27 August 1925, an Extraordinary Resolution was passed during a meeting of the company that Gorringes should be voluntarily wound up and that a liquidator should be appointed.

What happened to Frank Gorringe in later life is a bit of a mystery. I have found one family tree which reveals that he died on 12 December 1962, aged 83. However, looking into this death reveals that it was of Frank Gorringe of 135 Sevenoaks Way, St. Paul's Cray, Kent, who left his estate to his spinster sister, Ivy. This led back to earlier records which revealed that he was born in St. Mary Cray, Orpington, in 1880, and was a gardener in St. Paul's Cray at the time of the 1911 census.

His company, however, seems to have survived the liquidation and I believe it continued in business but under different hands. At some point, the company was taken over by an American comedian by the name of Fred Duprez (photo above) who found a great deal of success touring the British music halls with his act and with his comedy play My Wife's Family, which went on to be filmed many times. (Below you'll find a couple of recordings by Duprez... something to listen to while you read the rest of this post!)


Duprez was born in Detroit on 6 September 1884 and had first appeared on the stage in 1899. After spending five years in stock and repertory companies, he began appearing on the variety stage. He first appeared in England in 1909 at the Bedford Music Hall, Camden Town.

He toured extensively in Mr Manhattan in 1920, 1921 and 1924 and in a number of reviews over the years. He also acted in a number of films in the 1930s.

Duprez was certainly a director of the company, although how active he was in the day-to-day running I have no idea, as he had a busy career on the stage. I have only been able to discover two other names associated with the company around that period: C. J. Vidler and B. A. Sheppard. The former, I believe, was also a comic actor associated with Duprez. The latter has eluded me completely. Vidler was chairman of a company by name of Milton Gorringe, which was almost certainly related and which went into liquidation in 1936. [I believe he might be Cyril John Vidler, 1903?-1965, who is described as a "director" on passenger lists as Vidler travelled between the UK and America in the 1930s. Whether this is a company director or a stage director isn't revealed.]

Fred Duprez died suddenly. He had been in America for a week with his wife, Florence, and was travelling home on board a liner on 27 October 1938 when he had a heart attack. The news was sent by cable to Gorringe's, who noted him as a former director. Duprez was survived by his wife and daughter, June Duprez, who was an actress.

Gorringe's Shipping and American News Agency was eventually struck from the company register in March 1957.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Caught in the Act: Henry Chalmers Roberts

Although there was a constant crossover of content between British and American magazines, it was only the introduction of the International Copyright Treaty in 1891 that ended the wholesale pirating of stories and features. Some American publishers had established London offices for the distribution of their titles, or struck deals with already established British publishers. Thus Harper's Magazine began a European edition in 1850 published by Sampson Low, Lippincott's Magazine was published by Ward Lock from 1890 and many other American titles were published by Frederick Warne, Macmillan, Hodder & Stoughton and T. Fisher Unwin.

Chalmers Roberts came to the UK in 1900 as a representative of Doubleday, Page & Co. to set up a deal to publish a British edition of Doubleday's The World's Work magazine, launched in American in  November 1900. The British publisher was William Heinemann, who had already forged links with Frank Doubleday in the 1890s.

The World's Work: An illustrated magazine of national efficiency and social progress (there was a brief period when the title became The World's Work and Play; the subtitle was later shortened to A Magazine of Today) debuted in December 1902. Initially edited by globe-travelling journalist and Liberal MP Henry Norman, MP, it would eventually run to 252 monthly issues until 1923 when it was retitled World Today.

Henry Chalmers Roberts was born in Austin, Texas, on 31 July 1870 [possibly 1869], the eldest son of Major General Albert Samuel Roberts and his wife Fanny Gordon (nee Chalmers). He was educated in private schools in Texas and Virginia before attending the University of Texas.

Roberts was sent to the American Legation, Constantinople, in 1893, as a junior diplomat. Here he became a war correspondent for the Daily News during the Turko-Grecian War of 1897; he later covered the Spanish-American War for the Daily Mail in 1898. As a journalist, Roberts contributed to Atlantic, Harper's, Everybody's and The World's Work.

Established in the UK, Chalmers Roberts became managing director of  World's Work Ltd., which was wound-up in November 1913 and relaunched as World's Work (1913) Ltd., based in Kingswood, Surrey, where William Heinemann had their print works.

The growth of cheaper, popular fiction magazines in the USA was reflected in the UK, with the British edition of Short Stories published by World's Work from March 1920. This proved so popular that it was published twice a month from 1922 until the outbreak of the Second World War. Further popular imports followed, including The Frontier in April 1925 and West in August 1926—all three titles relying heavily on westerns, which were proving hugely popular in Britain in the 1920s.

In the 1930s, World's Work continued to produce British editions, launching All-Star in 1931, based on the Doubleday title which folded soon after, leading All-Star to merge with Frontier; the merged papers folded in 1933, briefly making way for All-Star Detective Magazine.

World's Work began publishing their own titles alongside short-lived reprints of Modern Stories and All Western Magazine, most notably the Master Thriller series, which reprinted stories from Short Stories, Frontier and elsewhere mixed in with the occasional original. Spin-offs from this series included a number of highly collectable horror magazines and the science fiction magazine Tales of Wonder. The editor of the latter, Walter Gillings, would later recall meeting with Chalmers Roberts, describing him as "a large, bewhiskered man more than twice my age with a vast experience of the publishing world." ['The Impatient Dreamers 6 Year of the Blast-Off', Vision of Tomorrow, p.21]

This would have been in 1937. Chalmers Roberts had for many years lived at 25 Jermyn Street, London SW1 and was single. In 1944, Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge was published by Heinemann in the UK and Doubleday in the USA, which its author characterised as a thinly veiled true story. Roberts was reputedly the inspiration for the character Elliott Templeton, and was described by Maugham's biographer Selina Hastings as "a retired American diplomat [and] pederast." [Quoted in Gay Novels of Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth, 1881-1981: A Reader's Guide by Drewey Wayne Gunn, p.38]

Roberts returned to America, where he died in New York on 2 April 1949, aged 79. A brief obituary in The Times (5 April 1949, p.6) noted that he "played an active part in the promotion of Anglo-American relations, on the committee of the English-Speaking Union and as a member of the Pilgrim Club, throughout the 40 years he spent in London."

Update: There is some question as to whether Chalmers Roberts came to the UK in 1900 in order to set up the World's Work magazine or whether he arrived later, as some sources state that he came to the UK in 1906. My source for 1900 is Who's Who Among North American Authors. Both the 1929 and 1939 editions state that he "Went to London in 1900 as representative of Doubleday, Page and Co., residing there since."

The 1906 date relates to when he took over the editorship of the magazine from Henry Norman, who was the founding editor and ran the magazine for five years. Chalmers Roberts took over as editor with issue 49, the fifth anniversary issue, dated December 1906. Roberts subsequently travelled between the UK and the USA fairly regularly, obtaining a passport in 1915 at which time he was said to have been working in Washington DC (having returned to the USA shortly after the outbreak of the First World War). He was listed as living at 25 Jermyn Street, London, as early as 1908, but I have been unable to trace his whereabouts earlier than that.

(* The Mystery Stories pic is from the FictionMags Index where a number of issues of the magazine still need to be indexed – so if you have copies of issue #12, 16, 17, 22 please get in touch.)

Monday, August 03, 2015

British Library Classic Thrillers

A new series spinning off from the success of the British Library Crime Classics series.

The Traitor by Sydney Horler
British Library 978-0712-35614-5, September 2015, 256pp, £8.99.
‘War is coming – and that means our secret agents must get busy.’
    August 1918. On his way to the Western Front, Captain Alan Clinton spends a night in Paris with a young Frenchwoman, Marie Roget. Seduced by Marie’s charms, Clinton discloses British military secrets – with disastrous consequences.
    Seventeen years later. The central European state of Ronstadt is ruled by the ruthless dictator Kuhnreich, and Europe is inching towards another war. Clinton’s son Bobby travels to Europe as the political situation grows tenser, and seems dangerously close to repeating the sins of his father – leaving only his girlfriend to prove his innocence in a race against time.
    This thriller from 1936 is here republished for the first time in almost 70 years, with an introduction by the award-winning expert on inter-war popular fiction, Martin Edwards.
    Since Sydney Horler’s death in 1954 his work has fallen into neglect, partly because of the outmoded political opinions that are often expressed in the novels. This new edition gives contemporary readers a long overdue chance to rediscover an early thriller that is plotted with dash and verve – a book that helps to explain the author’s phenomenal popularity in his own time.

Trouble on the Thames by Victor Bridges
British Library 978-0712-35603-9, September 2015, 288pp, £8.99.
‘A literary craftsman, who could spring surprises with his humour and sense of suspense.’ The Times
    Owen Bradwell is a courageous naval officer who returns to England in the 1930s. He believes that his career is over because he has become colour-blind – but with Nazi Germany an increasing menace, the authorities cannot do without Bradwell, and he is assigned a special mission.
    A former acquaintance of Bradwell’s has been trapped into betraying his country’s secrets by a Nazi agent. Bradwell is sent to spy on the spy, and travels down the Thames on a surveillance trip under cover of a fishing weekend. Things soon take an unexpected turn, and Bradwell finds himself in the company of a dead man, and a pretty young interior decorator called Sally.
    Will Bradwell triumph over the villains, and will he and Sally fall in love?
    This neglected thriller novel from 1945 is a pacy and entertaining read, rich with the classic twists of the genre: amnesia, blackmail, and a convict’s escape from Dartmoor.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

British Library Crime Classics Series

The British Library have been publishing a collection of classic crime novels of late which have proven surprisingly popular. Paul Gallagher highlighted the series in an article in The Independent back in December, describing J. Jefferson Farjeon's Mystery In White: A Christmas Crime Story as a "Festive sleeper hit" that was selling in "astonishing numbers". According to Waterstones, it had outsold Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and Amazon had temporarily run out of stock the previous week due to surging demand.

The book had sold some 60,000 copies, accounting for 40 percent of sales for the whole series which, at that time, had reached 155,000. According to Joseph Knobbs of Waterstones, sales might reflect readers' yearning for genuine mysteries rather than darker, modern thrillers. "The Crime Classics stand out against the darker crop of contemporary crime fiction and offer something a bit different. A lot of modern stuff skews closer to thriller than mystery." Perhaps true. I think the British Library have made the series stand out with a selection of delightfully old-fashioned covers and with no Poirot or Marple on the TV at the moment, maybe readers who enjoy a cosy murder mystery are looking elsewhere for their devilishly clever murders and drawing room revelations. I hope the series continues for a long time to come.

Since the original publication of this checklist, the series has generated a spin-off, the British Library Classic Thrillers, which I'll list elsewhere.

The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren Adams
British Library 978-0712-25859-0, February 2012, 312pp, £8.99.
British Library 978-0712-35626-8, May 2015, 256pp, £8.99.
Detective fiction at its best, The Notting Hill Mystery was first published as an eight part serial between 1862 and 1863 in the magazine Once a Week, written under the pseudonym Charles Felix. It has been widely described as the first detective fiction novel, pre-dating as it does other novels such as Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (1868) and Emile Gaboriau’s first Monsieur Lecoq novel (1869) that have previously claimed that accolade.
    The story is told by insurance investigator Ralph Henderson, who is building a case against the sinister Baron ‘R___’, suspected of murdering his wife in order to obtain significant life insurance payments. Henderson descends into a maze of intrigue including a diabolical mesmerist, kidnapping by gypsies, slow-poisoners, a rich uncle’s will and three murders. Presented in the form of diary entries, family letters, chemical analysis reports, interviews with witnesses and a crime scene map, the novel displays innovative techniques that would not become common features of detective fiction until the 1920s.
    Now made available again, with George du Maurier’s original illustrations included for the first time since the original serial publication, this new edition of The Notting Hill Mystery will be welcomed by all fans of detective fiction.

The Female Detective
British Library, 978-0712-35878-1, October 2012, 328pp, £8.99.
British Library 978-0712-35759-3, August 2014, 328pp, £8.99.
The Female Detective is the first novel in British fiction to feature a professional female detective. Written by Andrew Forrester, it was originally published in 1864. The protagonist is Miss Gladden, or 'G' as she is also known - the precursor to Miss Marple, Mma Ramotswe and Lisbeth Salander.
    Miss Gladden's deductive methods and energetic approach anticipate those of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and she can be seen as beginning a powerful tradition of female detectives in these 7 short stories. 'G' uses similar methods to her male counterparts – she enters scenes of crime incognito, tracking down killers while trying to conceal her own tracks and her identity from others
    'G', the first female detective, does much physical detective work, examining crime scenes, looking for clues and employing all manner of skill, subterfuge, observation and charm solve crimes. Like Holmes, 'G' regards the regular constabulary with disdain. For all the intrigue and interest of the stories, little is ever revealed about 'G' herself, and her personal circumstances remain a mystery throughout. But it is her ability to apply her considerable energy and intelligence to solve crimes that is her greatest appeal, and the reappearance of the original lady detective will be welcomed by fans of crime fiction.

Revelations of a Lady Detective by W. Stephens Hayward
British Library 978-0712-35896-5, February 2013, 320pp, £8.99.
`owing to frequent acquaintance with peril, I had become unusually hardened for a woman`
    Mrs Paschal is only the second ever professional female detective to feature in a work of fiction, pipped to the post by just 6 months by Andrew Forrester’s The Lady Detective (republished by The British Library in 2012). Both were published in 1864 and are of historical significance because for over 20 years they remained the only books to feature a female detective as the protagonist.
    Mrs Paschal, the heroine of Revelations of a Lady Detective, is regularly consulted by the police and serves as an undercover agent as well as investigating her own cases. She throws herself into cases with verve and gusto and has no hesitation in infiltrating a deadly society or casting off her crinolines in order to plummet into a sewer on the trail of a criminal.

Mr Bazalgette's Agent by Leonard Merrick
British Library 978-0712- 9, September 2013, 144pp, £6.99.
‘Here is a business where breeding must be a recommendation .... Here is a work where beauty is a passport’
    When Miriam Lea falls on hard times, an advertisement for private agents catches her eye, and within weeks she finds herself in Mr Bazalgette’s employ as a private detective, travelling on a train to Hamburg in pursuit of an audacious fraudster. What follows is a journey through some of the great cities of Europe – and eventually to South Africa - as Miss Lea attempts to find her man.
    Miriam Lea is only the third ever professional female detective to appear in a work of crime fiction. Originally published in 1888, Mr Bazalgette’s Agent presents a determined and resourceful heroine in the figure of Miss Lea, who grapples with some very modern dilemmas of female virtue and vice.
    Leonard Merrick said of the book, his first: ‘It’s a terrible book. It’s the worst thing I ever wrote. I bought them all up and destroyed them. You can’t find any.’ It seems Merrick was true to his word since copies of the book can now only be found in private collections and in a handful of university and national libraries throughout the world. This new edition offers the modern crime fiction fan an opportunity to rediscover an enticing and rare detective story.

The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay
British Library 978-0712-35712-8, November 2013, 288pp, £8.99.
British Library 978-0712-35630-5, October 2015, 288pp, £8.99.
Aunt Mildred declared that no good could come of the Melbury family Christmas gatherings at their country residence Flaxmere. So when Sir Osmond Melbury, the family patriarch, is discovered – by a guest dressed as Santa Klaus - with a bullet in his head on Christmas Day, the festivities are plunged into chaos. Nearly every member of the party stands to reap some sort of benefit from Sir Osmond’s death, but Santa Klaus, the one person who seems to have every opportunity to fire the shot, has no apparent motive.
    Various members of the family have their private suspicions about the identity of the murderer, and the Chief Constable of Haulmshire, who begins his investigations by saying that he knows the family too well and that is his difficulty, wishes before long that he understood them better. In the midst of mistrust, suspicion and hatred, it emerges that there was not one Santa Klaus, but two.

The Lake District Murder by John Bude
British Library 978-0712-35716-6, March 2014, 288pp, £8.99.
Luke flung the light of his torch full onto the face of the immobile figure. Then he had the shock of his life. The man had no face! Where his face should have been was a sort of inhuman, uniform blank!
    When a body is found at an isolated garage, Inspector Meredith is drawn into a complex investigation where every clue leads to another puzzle: was this a suicide, or something more sinister? Why was the dead man planning to flee the country? And how is this connected to the shady business dealings of the garage?
    This classic mystery novel is set amidst the stunning scenery of a small village in the Lake District. It is now republished for the first time since the 1930s.

The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude
British Library 978-0712-35715-9, March 2014, 288pp, £8.99.
‘Never, even in his most optimistic moments, had he visualised a scene of this nature – himself in one arm-chair, a police officer in another, and between them… a mystery.’
    The Reverend Dodd, vicar of the quiet Cornish village of Boscawen, spends his evenings reading detective stories by the fireside – but heaven forbid that the shadow of any real crime should ever fall across his seaside parish. But the vicar’s peace is shattered one stormy night when Julius Tregarthan, a secretive and ill-tempered magistrate, is found at his house in Boscawen with a bullet through his head.
    The local police inspector is baffled by the complete absence of clues. Suspicion seems to fall on Tregarthan’s niece, Ruth – but surely that young woman lacks the motive to shoot her uncle dead in cold blood? Luckily for Inspector Bigswell, the Reverend Dodd is on hand, and ready to put his keen understanding of the criminal mind to the test. This classic mystery novel of the golden age of British crime fiction is set against the vividly described backdrop of a fishing village on Cornwall’s Atlantic coast. It is now republished for the first time since the 1930s, with a new introduction by Martin Edwards.

Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay
British Library 978-0712-35726-5, March 2014, 288pp, £8.99.
For Miss Cordell, principal of Persephone College, there are two great evils to be feared: unladylike behaviour among her students, and bad publicity for the college. So her prim and cosy world is turned upside down when a secret society of undergraduates meets by the river on a gloomy January afternoon, only to find the drowned body of the college bursar floating in her canoe.
    The police assume that a student prank got out of hand, but the resourceful Persephone girls suspect foul play, and take the investigation into their own hands. Soon they uncover the tangled secrets that led to the bursar’s death – and the clues that point to a fellow student.

Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay
British Library 978-0712-35725-8, March 2014, 288pp, £8.99.
‘This detective novel is much more than interesting. The numerous characters are well differentiated, and include one of the most feckless, exasperating and lifelike literary men that ever confused a trail.’ Dorothy L. Sayers, Sunday Times, 1934.
    When Miss Pongleton is found murdered on the stairs of Belsize Park station, her fellow-boarders in the Frampton Hotel are not overwhelmed with grief at the death of a tiresome old woman. But they all have their theories about the identity of the murderer, and help to unravel the mystery of who killed the wealthy ‘Pongle’. Several of her fellow residents – even Tuppy the terrier – have a part to play in the events that lead to a dramatic arrest.

A Scream in Soho by John G. Brndon
British Library 978-0712-35745-6, September 2014, 256pp, £8.99.
‘For a scream in the early hours of the morning in Soho, even from a female throat, to stop dead in his tracks a hard-boiled constable, it had to be something entirely out of the ordinary.’
    Soho during the blackouts of the Second World War. When a piercing scream rends the air and a bloodied knife is found, Detective Inspector MacCarthy is soon on the scene. He must move through the dark, seedy Soho underworld – peopled by Italian gangsters, cross-dressing German spies and glamorous Austrian aristocrats – as he attempts to unravel the connection between the mysterious Madame Rohner and the theft of secret anti-aircraft defence plans.

The Sussex Downs Mystery by John Bude
British Library 978-0712-35796-8, October 2014, 288pp, £8.99.
'Already it looked as if the police were up against a carefully planned and cleverly executed murder, and, what was more, a murder without a corpse!'
    Two brothers, John and William Rother, live together at Chalklands Farm in the beautiful Sussex Downs. Their peaceful rural life is shattered when John Rother disappears and his abandoned car is found. Has he been kidnapped? Or is his disappearance more sinister - connected, perhaps, to his growing rather too friendly with his brother's wife?
    Superintendent Meredith is called to investigate - and begins to suspect the worst when human bones are discovered on Chalklands farmland. His patient, careful detective method begins slowly to untangle the clues as suspicion shifts from one character to the next.

Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon
British Library 978-0712-35770-8, November 2014, 256pp, £8.99.
The horror on the train, great though it may turn out to be, will not compare with the horror that exists here, in this house.’
    On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home.
     Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.

Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston
British Library 978-0712-35795-1, January 2015, 320pp, £8.99.
‘Scores of men and women died daily in London, but on this day of days one of them had died in the very midst of a crowd and the cause of his death was a dagger piercing his heart. Death had become something very real.’
    When Bobbie Cheldon falls in love with a pretty young dancer at the Frozen Fang night club in Soho, he has every hope of an idyllic marriage. But Nancy has more worldly ideas about her future: she is attracted not so much to Bobbie as to the fortune he expects to inherit.
    Bobbie’s miserly uncle Massy stands between him and happiness: he will not relinquish the ten thousand a year on which Nancy’s hopes rest. When Bobbie falls under the sway of the roguish Nosey Ruslin, the stage is set for murder in the heart of Piccadilly – and for Nancy’s dreams to be realised.
    When Chief Inspector Wake of Scotland Yard enters the scene, he uncovers a tangled web of love affairs, a cynical Soho underworld, and a motive for murder.

Capital Crimes ed. by Martin Edwards
British Library 978-0712-35749-4, March 2015, 320pp, £8.99.
With its fascinating mix of people – rich and poor, British and foreign, worthy and suspicious – London is a city where anything can happen. The possibilities for criminals and for the crime writer are endless. London has been home to many of fiction's finest detectives, and the setting for mystery novels and short stories of the highest quality.
    Capital Crimes is an eclectic collection of London-based crime stories, blending the familiar with the unexpected in a way that reflects the personality of the city. Alongside classics by Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley and Thomas Burke are excellent and unusual stories by authors who are far less well known. The stories give a flavour of how writers have tackled crime in London over the span of more than half a century. Their contributions range from an early serial-killer thriller set on the London Underground and horrific vignettes to cerebral whodunits. What they have in common is an atmospheric London setting, and enduring value as entertainment.

Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts
British Library 978-0712-35779-1, April 2015, 288pp, £8.99.
'Mr Wills Crofts is deservedly a first favourite with all who want a real puzzle' – Times Literary Supplement 
'He always manages to give us something that really keeps us guessing' – Daily Mirror
    George Surridge, director of the Birmington Zoo, is a man with many worries: his marriage is collapsing; his finances are insecure; and an outbreak of disease threatens the animals in his care.
    As Surridge's debts mount and the pressure on him increases, he begins to dream of miracle solutions. But is he cunning enough to turn his dreams into reality – and could he commit the most devious murder in pursuit of his goals?
    This ingenious crime novel, with its unusual 'inverted' structure and sympathetic portrait of a man on the edge, is one of the greatest works by this highly respected author. The elaborate means of murder devised by Crofts's characters is perhaps unsurpassed in English crime fiction for its ostentatious intricacy.

The Hog's Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts
British Library 978-0712-35797-5, April 2015, 336pp, £8.99.
Dr James Earle and his wife live in comfortable seclusion near the Hog's Back, a ridge in the North Downs in the beautiful Surrey countryside. When Dr Earle disappears from his cottage, Inspector French is called in to investigate. At first he suspects a simple domestic intrigue - and begins to uncover a web of romantic entanglements beneath the couple's peaceful rural life. The case soon takes a more complex turn. Other people vanish mysteriously, one of Dr Earle's house guests among them. What is the explanation for the disappearances? If the missing people have been murdered, what can be the motive? This fiendishly complicated puzzle is one that only Inspector French can solve. Freeman Wills Crofts was a master of the intricately and ingeniously plotted detective novel, and The Hog's Back Mystery shows him at the height of his powers.

Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries ed. by Martin Edwards
British Library 978-0712-35748-7, April 2015, 320pp, £8.99.
Holidays offer us the luxury of getting away from it all. So, in a different way, do detective stories. This collection of vintage mysteries combines both those pleasures. From a golf course at the English seaside to a pension in Paris, and from a Swiss mountain resort to the cliffs of Normandy, this new selection shows the enjoyable and unexpected ways in which crime writers have used summer holidays as a theme. These fourteen stories range widely across the golden age of British crime fiction. Stellar names from the past are well represented - Arthur Conan Doyle and G. K. Chesterton, for instance - with classic stories that have won acclaim over the decades. The collection also uncovers a wide range of hidden gems: Anthony Berkeley - whose brilliance with plot had even Agatha Christie in raptures - is represented by a story so (undeservedly) obscure that even the British Library seems not to own a copy. The stories by Phyllis Bentley and Helen Simpson are almost equally rare, despite the success which both writers achieved, while those by H. C. Bailey, Leo Bruce and the little-known Gerald Findler have seldom been reprinted.

Death of Anton by Alan Melville
British Library 978-0712-35788-3, August 2015, 288pp, £8.99.
'There's more crime going on in Carey's Circus than in the whole underworld of London. Theft, immorality, blackmail — you'll find all the pretties here.'
    Seven Bengal tigers are the star attraction of Carey’s Circus. Their trainer is the fearless Anton, whose work demands absolute fitness and the steadiest of nerves. When Anton is found lying dead in the tigers’ cage, it seems that he has lost control and been mauled by the tigers – but Detective-Inspector Minto of Scotland Yard is not convinced.
    Minto’s investigations lead him deep into the circus world of tents and caravans, clowns and acrobats, human and animal performers. No one is above suspicion. Carey, the circus-owner with a secret to hide; Dodo, the clown whose costume is scratched as if by a claw; and Lorimer, the trapeze artist jealous of his flirtatious wife – all come under Minto’s scrutiny as the mystery deepens.
    This amusing and light-hearted novel from the golden age of British crime writing has long been neglected, and this new edition will help to restore Melville’s reputation as an author of extremely entertaining detective fiction.

Quick Curtain by Alan Melville
British Library 978-0712-35789-0, August 2015, 288pp, £8.99.
'Don't talk bunk!' said Mr Douglas. 'You can't carry on with the show with a man dying on stage. Drop the curtain!'
    When Douglas B. Douglas – leading light of the London theatre – premieres his new musical extravaganza, Blue Music, he is sure the packed house will be dazzled by the performance. What he couldn’t predict is the death of his star, Brandon Baker, on stage in the middle of the second act. Soon another member of the cast is found dead, and it seems to be a straightforward case of murder followed by suicide.
    Inspector Wilson of Scotland Yard – who happens to be among the audience – soon discovers otherwise. Together with Derek, his journalist son, Wilson takes charge of proceedings in his own inimitable way.
    This is a witty, satirical novel from the golden age of British crime fiction between the world wars. It is long overdue for rediscovery and this new edition includes an informative introduction by Martin Edwards, author of The Golden Age of Murder.
     ‘Blows the solemn structure of the detective novel sky-high ... Light entertainment is Mr Melville’s aim, and a fig for procedure!’ Dorothy L. Sayer.

Death of an Airman by Christopher St. John Sprigg
British Library 978-0712-35615-2, August 288pp, £8.99.
‘Bubbles over with zest and vitality ... A most ingenious and exciting plot, full of good puzzles and discoveries and worked out among a varied cast of entertaining characters’ Dorothy L. Sayers
    George Furnace, flight instructor at Baston Aero Club, dies instantly when his plane crashes into the English countryside. People who knew him are baffled – Furnace was a first-rate pilot, and the plane was in perfect condition – and the inquest records a verdict of death by misadventure.
    An Australian visitor to the aero club, Edwin Marriott, Bishop of Cootamundra, suspects that the true story is more complicated. Could this be a dramatic suicide – or even murder? Together with Inspector Bray of Scotland Yard, the intrepid bishop must uncover a cunning criminal scheme.
Thirteen Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon
British Library 978- 0712-35601-5, September 2015, 256pp, £8.99.
‘No observer, ignorant of the situation, would have guessed that death lurked nearby, and that only a little distance from the glitter of silver and glass and the hum of voices two victims lay silent on a studio floor.’
    On a fine autumn weekend Lord Aveling hosts a hunting party at his country house, Bragley Court. Among the guests are an actress, a journalist, an artist and a mystery novelist. The unlucky thirteenth is John Foss, injured at the local train station and brought to the house to recuperate – but John is nursing a secret of his own.
    Soon events take a sinister turn when a painting is mutilated, a dog stabbed, and a man strangled. Death strikes more than one of the house guests, and the police are called. Detective Inspector Kendall’s skills are tested to the utmost as he tries to uncover the hidden past of everyone at Bragley Court.
    This country-house mystery is a forgotten classic of 1930s crime fiction by one of the most undeservedly neglected of golden age detective novelists.

The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon
British Library 978-0712-35621-3, September 2015, 256pp, £8.99.
‘Jefferson Farjeon is quite unsurpassed for creepy skill in mysterious adventures.’ Dorothy L. Sayers
    Richard Temperley arrives at Euston station early on a fogbound London morning. He takes refuge in a nearby hotel, along with a disagreeable fellow passenger, who had snored his way through the train journey. But within minutes the other man has snored for the last time – he has been shot dead while sleeping in an armchair. Temperley has a brief encounter with a beautiful young woman, but she flees the scene. When the police arrive, Detective Inspector James discovers a token at the crime scene: ‘a small piece of enamelled metal. Its colour was crimson, and it was in the shape of the letter Z.’
    Temperley sets off in pursuit of the mysterious woman from the hotel, and finds himself embroiled in a cross-country chase – by train and taxi – on the tail of a sinister serial killer. This classic novel by the author of the best-selling Mystery in White is a gripping thriller by a neglected master of the genre.

Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries edited and introduced by Martin Edwards
British Library 978-0712-35610-7, October 2015, 256pp, £8.99.
Christmas is a mysterious, as well as magical, time of year. Strange things can happen, and this helps to explain the hallowed tradition of telling ghost stories around the fireside as the year draws to a close. Christmas tales of crime and detection have a similar appeal. When television becomes tiresome, and party games pall, the prospect of curling up in the warm with a good mystery is enticing – and much better for the digestion than yet another helping of plum pudding.
    Crime writers are just as susceptible as readers to the countless attractions of Christmas. Over the years, many distinguished practitioners of the genre have given one or more of their stories a Yuletide setting. The most memorable Christmas mysteries blend a lively storyline with an atmospheric evocation of the season. Getting the mixture right is much harder than it looks.
    This book introduces readers to some of the finest Christmas detective stories of the past. Martin Edwards’ selection blends festive pieces from much-loved authors with one or two stories which are likely to be unfamiliar even to diehard mystery fans. The result is a collection of crime fiction to savour, whatever the season.

(* Originally published  21 February 2015; updated and expanded 1 August 2015.)

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Arthur Salcroft

Arthur Salcroft was the author of three crime novels, The Mystery of the Walled Garden (March 1928), The Twisted Grin (January 1929) and John Traile: Smuggler (July 1929). The books were given some good reviews. Of the first the Birmingham Post said, "An ingenious plot is here developed and unravelled with skill beyond the average," whilst the Daily Mail said, "Mr. Salcroft is to be especially congratulated ... command of material resources and marvellous mechanical inventions."

The Dundee Courier (12 May 1928) said of it:
Arthur Salcroft's novel, The Mystery of the Walled Garden (Hutchinson, 7s 6d), is a detective story out of the usual run. The author does not present the reader with a murder to arouse the interest, but a mystery to solve which is as baffling as the inevitable murder which ultimately  takes place. The key to the mystery lies within a "walled garden" and although Allandale, a rising young barrister, is prevented from investigating it, he becomes personally involved. Cupid then steps in and brings happiness to Allandale and Mrs. Radalin, a charming widow, thus providing a satisfactory ending to a delightful mystery tale.
"Suspicion in connection with a murder falls right and left, and as usual the reader is soon lost in a maze of possibilities," said the Aberdeen Journal (19 April 1928). "Relief from theorising is afforded, however, by the presence of a fascinating widow whose charms are far from being lost on the young barrister who is investigating the murder."

Salcroft's second novel appeared in February 1929 and was reviewed by the Dundee Courier (15 February 1929) thus:
The opening pages of The Twisted Grin by Arthur Salcroft (Hutchinson, 7s. 6d) promise tense excitement and the promise is fulfilled. The story concerns the adventures, and incidentally the love story, of a young doctor who is implicated in a search to recover a mysterious death ray apparatus that has fallen into unscrupulous hands. if at times the narrative flags a little, the mystery and the numerous exciting episodes make a story that can confidently lay claim to be a real "thriller".
Salcroft's third novel was more of an action-adventure concerting John Traile, a young and adventurous London solicitor, who, while holiday-making in Devonshire, discovers a gang of modern-day smugglers at work. For the love of a lady, John allows himself to be drawn into the smugglers' organisation, and takes his part in rum-running and other less reputable schemes.

Arthur Edward Beecroft was born in Hastings, Sussex, on 12 June 1887,  the third child of Edward Robert Beecroft, a warehouseman, and his wife Alice Mary Beecroft (nee Cook). Edward grew up in Tunbridge Wells and lived with his parents throughout his education at Tunbridge, The Leys and Cambridge. He trained as a barrister, passing in Criminal Law and Procedure in his exams at the Inns of Court in November 1911 and passing his final exams in June 1912.

Beecroft's war service is related in Gallipoli: A Soldier's Story, published in 2015 by Robert Hale, who have written the following about the book:
At the start of the First World War, Arthur Beecroft was a recently qualified barrister in his twenties. Determined to enlist despite a medical condition, he volunteered for military service, first as a regular soldier, then as a despatch rider. Offered a commission in the Royal Engineers, in 1915 he saw action at Gallipoli. Now a byword for catastrophic military disaster, the Gallipoli Campaign was the ill-conceived Allied invasion of the Dardanelles. The campaign stalled almost immediately, resulting in over half a million casualties on both sides. Lucky to survive, several years later Beecroft wrote a detailed memoir of his experiences. Discovered by his granddaughter and now reproduced here almost exactly as it was written nearly a century ago, Beecroft's vivid narrative takes us through those heady days of the declaration of war, enlistment, initial training, the bungled landing at Suvla Bay, and the exceptionally difficult conditions of the Gallipoli terrain. This is no mere jingoistic account. With a keen eye, Beecroft brings to life the men dogged by disease and exhaustion - ordinary soldiers who, even as they suffered the betrayal of incompetent leadership, displayed extraordinary reserves of heroism and bravery. Throughout this rare insight into what it was like for an ordinary 'civilian soldier' swept up in the fog of war, Beecroft's authentic voice still speaks honestly to us today - of comradeship and devotion to duty, of fear and facing death. Now published for the first time in the centenary year of the Gallipoli Campaign, this is a soldier's story in his own words.
Beecroft enlisted in 1914 and served as a Signals Officer during the Gallipoli campaign. After the war he was awarded an MBE in 1922.

In her introduction to Gallipoli, Beecroft's granddaughter, Prue Sutton, notes:

My grandfather was a colourful character in many ways. As a young man he travelled across the United States in a stagecoach and also explored parts of South America. After losing an eye from infection, he would often wear a monocle, which made him quite scary to us grandchildren! He was highly principled and expected one to do one's best at all times; he sometimes had a short temper and didn't suffer fools gladly. He was a fearsome adversary as a barrister in Court. Between cases he would sit at his typewriter in his chambers and write detective novels and plays.
Why "Arthur Salcroft" stopped writing is unknown. Certainly Arthur Beecroft became involved in the discussion about simplifying litigation, saying that procedures needed to  made less technical and less expensive and that delays to trials in some courts "almost amounts to a denial of justice."

Beecroft was married to Beryl Constance Salt in 1919 and had two children, Pamela, born in 1920 (who married Squadron Leader Douglas Hamilton Grice in 1941), and Robert C. born in 1922. Both Mr and Mrs Beecroft were involved in active service during the Second World War, Arthur Beecroft serving in the Home Guard, and Beryl Beecroft as a Squadron Officer with the W.A.A.F., for which she received an OBE. 

"He was a passionate gardener and later in life he loved to paint rural scenes in and around Buckinghamshire where he lived most of his life," recalls Prue Sutton. Arthur Beecroft died peacefully in a nursing home at Gerrards Cross on 12 March 1974 and is buried at Chilterns Crematorium.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Comic Cuts - 31 July 2015

I've just written a 115-word piece of filler about chicken pops—chicken breast in fried breadcrumbs—and I'm about to copy edit a short piece about whether it is commercially more sensible to refurbish a kitchen or scrap the old one and start from scratch. Welcome to the exciting world of editing!

The weary tone isn't due to overwork, just frustration. I'm pottering around doing little bits of filler that probably won't be used but which I need to have to hand just in case one of the features doesn't turn up. I had just such a situation last month where some last minute changes had to be made to the contents and I thought I'd spend some time making sure that there wouldn't be a hole this time around.

Sensible as that sounds, it's also the source of the frustration: I know that it's very unlikely that what I'm working on will ever see the light of day. We theme each section of each issue, so what I'm writing now will have no relevance to next issue's topic... so I can't just bump the material to next month. I have to scrap it entirely. Last month it was around 6,000 words, although quite a lot of that we were able to put online. This month it's mostly product filler which isn't much use for the website.

So I'm feeling a little frustrated as I'm finding there's precious little time at the moment to do any other writing. I've started doing some of the work I need to about British reprints of American magazines and American magazine imports and the first little bit should appear on Bear Alley next week, but the going is slow and it's not going to get any faster for a couple of months at least as next month's Hotel Business is a show issue with more pages and the one after that has a shorter deadline as we try to pull a little ahead before Christmas wrecks everybody's deadlines (I know... it seems like a long way to go, but in magazine terms it's only a few issues).

This week's random scans... as I'm thinking of those old "mushroom jungle" paperbacks at the moment, I thought I'd find some good girl art covers and found the following amongst the output of Hamilton & Co. They produced a slew of gangster novels in 1950-51 that, in a lot of cases, have yet to be credited to their real authors. I've never had a chance to do any kind of style analysis on the books as they're so scarce. Another project for another day.

Three of these are unsigned but I've seen them credited to John Pollack. I have to confess that I'm not 100% certain that's the case. I can't see any reason he wouldn't sign them if they were his. The artist is very familiar—I'm sure it's the same guy who painted covers for Edwin Self. Compare it to the Pete Costello novel at the top of the column... it's surely the same artist.

The cover for Faust of the FBI I'm really not sure about.

 
 
 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Commando issues 4831-4834

Commando issues on sale Thursday 30th July 2015

Commando No. 4831 – Flight Of The Furies
In 1939, confident young Pilot Officer Duncan Marlow fell foul of an obnoxious C.O. and was posted out of the way to Griffin Island — a small garrison off Africa’s West Coast.
   Discipline was lax and the Governor was untrustworthy. He was on friendly terms with the Germans who were stationed nearby, even though War between both countries was all but inevitable. What was going on…?
   Soon Duncan, aided by a down-at-heel fellow pilot, found himself fighting the enemy in old Fury bi-planes. He was determined to strike back!

Story: Steve Coombs
Art: Jaume Forns
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Commando No. 4832 – Terror Train
Not one of the men waiting in the darkness of that tunnel was unafraid. Each felt the fluttering in the stomach, the trembling of the hands that meant stark fear had taken over.
   Were these a pack of cowards, then?
   No. Every man present was a hero, brave and full of fight. Picked men — British Commandos and the cream of the French Resistance, the Maquis.
   But they were waiting for a train with a deadly cargo, and each man knew that in a few seconds he might have an appointment with death!

Introduction
It’s hard to believe that this classic Commando book hails from nearly half a century ago. Somehow it almost seems timeless – practically like a blueprint for everything that these ‘War Stories In Pictures’ were, and still are, all about.
   It’s beautifully illustrated, with a fantastically pulpy cover, and features great characters, thrills and action that never lets up. ‘Terror Train’ keeps on track, never going off the rails, right until the final word.
   Reader Announcement – Attention Please: Commando would like to apologise for the late arrival of the train puns in the previous sentence.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Redbridge
Art: Martin
Cover: Lopez Espi
Originally Commando No 209 (April 1966), re-issued as no 851 (July 1974)

Commando No. 4833 – The Desert Duel
Captain Jimmy Ramsey and his maverick Special Raiding Force were used to doing their own thing — dangerous hit-and-run raids deep behind enemy lines.
   So, during the battle of El Alamein in autumn 1942, when the Raiders were teamed with a Long Range Desert Group unit to capture an isolated German airfield, tensions mounted between the tough, hard-headed factions. Both the SRF and LRDG felt they could do the job better on their own.  
   They would have to stop clashing long enough to fight the real enemy!

Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Commando No. 4834 – The Man Who Was Afraid
What makes a good fighter pilot? It’s mostly skill, and Charles Crombie had plenty of that. But it isn’t only skill — you also need to be able to fly through a hail of bullets and flak threatening to hack you out of the sky at any minute. And that was what Charles was afraid of.
   Then he took to wearing an old coin around his neck. It was his lucky charm. As long as he had it with him, he knew no fear.
   As long as he had it with him…

Introduction
You might be interested to know that the original working title for this story was ‘The Courage Is Inside’. Obviously, I wasn’t in the Commando office in 1977 when the script came in (I was aged 5 at the time). But I’m guessing that one of the reasons it wasn’t used is that although appropriate to the subject matter, it somehow just doesn’t seem ‘Commando-ish’ enough to go in front of Ian Kennedy’s dynamic cover montage.
   The story’s a good one – even though it features the fairly well-used plot device of a lucky charm – and there’s a main character that we’re genuinely rooting for. And it is all brilliantly illustrated, as usual, by Gordon Livingstone.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Mclean
Art: George Livingstone
Cover: Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No 1152 (August 1977), re-issued as No 2476 (June 1991)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ray Bradbury interview (1971)

From my scrapbook, here's an ancient interview with Ray Bradbury from issue 28 of Rex, the British men's magazine, undated but published around December 1971.

 
 
 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Robert Ludlum

Yet another obituary from the scrapbook. I love the Bourne movies. They gave the thriller a much needed kick up the pants after they had become too effects heavy—the last Pierce Brosnan Bond, for instance, was a disaster. I've enjoyed the revival of Bond with Daniel Craig and I'm looking forward to the latest outing, SPECTRE, which will hopefully not be spoiled by having an unutterably dumb central premise which spoiled an otherwise beautifully shot Skyfall.