by Francis M. Nevins

   During World War II John Creasey wrote dozens of thrillers set in London that were never published outside the UK — until decades later when, as a superstar of the genre, he revised them for US publication, cutting out all the vivid wartime atmosphere that made them special.


   Recently I picked up The Toff Is Back — first published in 1942 and, according to the copyright page, revised in 1971, two years before Creasey’s death — and found to my surprise that all the ambiance of a largely bombed-out London survived the revision intact.

   The Hon. Richard Rollison, a.k.a. The Toff, returns from military service in North Africa to find that a well-organized gang has been looting bombed jewelry shops on a grand scale and framing innocent residents of his beloved East End for their crimes.

   Over the years I’ve read, or rather tried to read, several revised Creaseys alongside the 1940s versions, and every time found the originals infinitely better. I’ve never seen the wartime version of this one but it reads as if it hasn’t been revised at all, for which I shout Hallelujah.

   In fact, even the occasional gaffes which are inevitable when a book is written at the rate of 10,000 words a day seem to have been preserved. The racket boss is named Barte Lee while other characters live in Bartley Square, and on page 54 we read “Very slowly and deliberately Lee leaned forward,” which reminded me of the hilarious “Everywhere a Lee Lee” song from 1776.

   Gaffes and all, I highly recommend this one to any reader who wants to be taken back, like viewers of the early seasons of the Foyle’s War series, to a London being nightly pulverized by Hitler’s Luftwaffe.


   Anyone who would like to sample Creasey’s unretouched WWII thrillers without hitting used book shops has a golden opportunity in store. His first five Roger West novels, originally published between 1942 and 1946, will be reprinted a few months from now by Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, the Canada-based publishing operation owned by George Vanderburgh, as the omnibus volume Inspector West Goes to War.

   I’ve written an introduction for the book and have just finished proofreading the computer-scanned texts of those novels. It was a tedious task with two capital T’s but there’s no other way I could have learned so much about the stylistic oddities of these chronicles of London during and immediately after the war.

JOHN CREASEY Holiday for West

   Quirks and all, the early West novels are still amazingly readable today. Unlike any other Scotland Yard series I can recall, these books are packed with vivid action scenes. One might almost be reading a series of old-time Westerns except for the fact that guns are sparingly used, both by the bad guys and the bobbies.

Pounding out those ten thousand words a day, Creasey couldn’t avoid perpetrating some Avalloneisms, but far fewer than in the works of the grand master of malapropisms, Mike Avallone himself.

   One I found while proofreading is worth preserving. In Chapter 11 of Holiday for Inspector West (1946) Roger questions a female suspect and then her father, of whom Creasey says: “Like his daughter he had become a changed man.”

   As editor of this five-volume omnibus I’ve decided to substitute “person” for the last word of that sentence.

   Blatant mistakes of this sort, grammar-wise, usage-wise or otherwise, are being corrected, but I am not Americanizing any British terms: those four rubber doughnuts that are found on motor vehicles are called tyres, and when a car has engine trouble, the driver pulls into the kerb and looks under the bonnet.

   What you will read in Inspector West Goes to War is (except for those blatant slips) precisely what Creasey wrote at white heat as that war was raging and immediately afterward.


Between late June and late August 1939, during the first ten weeks that the 60-minute Adventures of Ellery Queen radio series was broadcast on CBS, each episode featured original background music composed and conducted by the soon to be famous Bernard Herrmann.

   None of those episodes survive, and the last time anyone heard what Herrmann wrote for the EQ series was 71 years ago. But today, thanks to the wonderworld of the Web, you can see some of the pages of Herrmann’s score on your computer screen:


   First, go to the Bernard Herrmann Society website. Click on “Talking Herrmann.” Enter the box at the bottom of the first page and, among the options given, click on “Topics for the Last Year.” Near the bottom of the fourth page is a thread entitled “Adventures of Ellery Queen 1939.” [This link, if it holds up over time, should take you there directly.]

   There lies the treasure, allowing those who can read a score and have an appropriate instrument to play some of Herrmann’s EQ music in their own homes.

   I wish I were one of that number. When I was a child my mother tried to make a pianist out of me but I resisted and today, sixty years later, I can’t read a note. Damn!


   The second and final Herrmann-Queen interface took place almost a quarter century later. Among the episodes of the second season of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on CBS-TV was “Terror in Northfield” (October 11, 1963), based on Queen’s 1956 non-series novelette about a string of violent deaths on the exact same spot. [Hulu link.]


   Harvey Hart directed from an adaptation by Leigh Brackett that dropped most of the detection in the Queen tale and stressed suspense. The puzzled deputy sheriff, the menaced local librarian and the mad farmer were played respectively by Dick York, Jacqueline Scott and R.G. Armstrong.

   Herrmann composed the score for this and several other Hitchcock Hour segments as well. May I still be alive and the owner of a decent pair of ears on the day when his scores for that series and others of the same period, like The Richard Boone Show and The Virginian, become available on CD.