Tue 30 Jun 2009
by Marvin Lachman
I suspect that detectives like Henry Tibbett [whose mystery case Falling Star, by Patricia Moyes, was reviewed here several days ago] were a reaction to the eccentric sleuths of an earlier era, e.g., Holmes, Wolfe, and Poirot.
Mystery writer John Creasey fathered a small army of detectives, all of whom had “smarts” and physical prowess, though none were especially colorful. Understandably, but perhaps unfairly, Creasey’s name has often made mystery readers smile. The most prolific mystery writer, he started by writing some dreadful books in his early days.
Nor were all of them mysteries, since he wrote in all genres. (One of his early “Tex Reilly” westerns is reputed to contain the deathless line about coyotes flying in the sky.)
Creasey was best known for his Commander George Gideon books, written under the J.J. Marric pseudonym, but G.G.’s roots were clearly in his older literary brother, Inspector Roger “Handsome” West, who appeared in forty-three novels and at least one short story.
West started off rather inconspicuously in 1942, depending on a socialite friend for much of his detection and legwork. However, as the series progressed, Creasey’s writing and West, as a hero, improved.
Happily, Harper’s Perennial Library has recently reprinted eight of the Roger West series, and their selection is excellent, as witnessed by the following examples.
Serial killers are everywhere today. (I’m sure I pass them on the streets as I walk from the train to work.) The Beauty Queen Killer (1954) is a good early example, with some exciting scenes, marred only by difficult to accept motivation.
The Gelignite Gang (1955) dates from the same year as the first Marric novel, and it also gives a good picture of London from a policeman’s viewpoint.
Here, the police are faced with a series of jewelry robberies, with the titular form of dynamite the common factor. When murder occurs during robbery in the city’s largest department store, West is called in to solve a mystery that has more surprises than most.
In Death of a Postman (1956) Creasey accomplishes what relatively few mystery writers do: he makes us care about the victim. A postal worker, who leaves behind a wife and five children, has been murdered during the Christmas rush. As we rapidly turn the pages of one of Creasey’s best narratives, we become involved and want West to track down a particularly heinous killer.
The Beauty Queen Killer. Harper & Brothers, US, hardcover, 1956. First published in the UK as A Beauty for Inspector West, Hodder & Stoughton, hc, 1954. US paperback editions include: Dell 985, 1957, as So Young, So Cold, So Fair. Berkley F1095, 1965; Lancer 74757, 1971; and Perennial, 1987.
The Gelignite Gang. Harper & Brothers, US, hardcover, 1956. First published in the UK as Inspector West Makes Haste, Hodder & Stoughton, 1955. US paperback editions include: Bantam 1884, 1959; Berkley F1176, 1966, as Night of the Watchman; Lancer, 1971, as Murder Makes Haste; and Perennial, 1987.
Death of a Postman. Harper & Brothers, US, hardcover, 1957. First published in the UK as Parcels for Inspector West, Hodder & Stoughton, 1956. US paperback editions include: Bantam 1883, 1956; Berkley F1167, 1965; and Perennial, 1987.