MANNING COLES – Let the Tiger Die.

Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1947. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hc, 1948.

    I was talking with a friend about mysteries the other evening, and of course the subject of authors who were popular back in the 30s, 40s and 50s came up. Both of us had fond memories of the Manning Coles–Tommy Hambledon stories, it turned out, the latter being one of England’s leading intelligence agents during World War II and the era that came along afterward.

MANNING COLES Let the Tiger Die

    Neither of could remember the names of his two amateur assistants, though: a pair of happy-go-lucky chaps whose gleeful approach to the spy game often bordered an sheer genius or lunacy, it’s hard to tell which.

    In this adventure Forgan and Campbell (that’s their names) don’t appear until page 141, but from that point on, they simply take over the book. They’re more than mere catalysts in moving the story into high gear. They’re more active in what follows than Tommy himself, who seems more content, at least this time out, in forcing himself into outrageous situations and then sitting back to see what happens.

    It begins with Hambledon on vacation, but just as it always happened to the Hardy Boys (but never to me when I was growing up), he spots something — three men obviously following someone who appears to be a German in Stockholm — and before he knows it, he is mixed up in an attempted abduction, a murder, and a mysterious package on his hands, plus a dying message from the Herr Goertz who was carrying it.

   Massive coincidences quickly pile up — adrift in the Baltic, Tommy is picked up by a ship whose captain has just been swindled by the same person whose papers Tommy just happens to be carrying — but by sheer audacity Tommy soon finds himself infiltrating a gang of fascists who have not yet conceded the war is over.

    Disguised as himself, if you can believe that — but somehow assumed to be someone else (and who that is he doesn’t learn himself until there’s only five pages to go), once again Tommy Hambledon and his friends save the day.

    I don’t think I could ever convince myself that this is the way serious spy business is conducted, off the cuff and on a lark, so to speak, but it’s entertaining, the background of Europe just after the war feels exactly right, and Manning Coles is another author who doesn’t deserve to be as forgotten as I think he is.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 33, Sept 1991 (revised).

[UPDATE] 01-30-09. And of course those last two words should read “they are” instead of “he is.” Manning Coles, as was well known even back than in 1991, is the joint pseudonym of two neighbors in Hampshire, England, Cyril Henry Coles and Adelaide Frances Oke Manning.

    The earliest Manning Coles books weren’t as light-hearted as those that came along later. I think it took the end of World War II before that happened. But as far-fetched as the later ones always seem on the verge of becoming, they’re the ones that have stuck more vividly in my mind.

    And I’m not the only one who remembers Tommy Hambledon and his cohorts fondly. The folks at Rue Morgue Press have reprinted five of them so far, mostly from his earliest anti-Nazi WWII days.