You’ll of course be aware that the birth stone for July is the ruby which — apologies for going over something we all know — signifies contentment. And so for Tuesdays in July I shall be putting forth a series of lists that, as a GAD fan, would go some way to enhancing my own content with the world.
First up — and feel free to try and guess as many of them as you can before scrolling down — are five authors who I’d love to see reprinted in their entirety. Yes, some of their books are possibly awful, I don’t care: if these works became available tomorrow I’d buy every single one, line them up delightedly on my shelves, and deal with the consequences of my actions in the fullness of time.
Just to be clear on the full criteria, these are authors who have had every book they’ve released published in English (to the best of my knowledge), and so it is reprinting that’s the concern, not translating. Were I possessed of infinite funds, time, and patience it would be possible for me to track these books down — they all exist out there in the world right now, frustratingly — but since I’m not I can’t and hence this wishlist.
Alphabetically by surname, and with an at-times depressing predictability, we have..
1. Bruce Campbell
My sole experience of the ‘Bruce Campbell’ books by Beryl and Sam Epstein is The Clue of the Phantom Car (1953) in their Ken Holt series “for boys”, and I loved it. Alas, the rest of the Ken Holt books are inevitably selling — well, no, crucially they’re not selling — for stupid money on various second-hand sites, which is probably a delight for collectors who wish to line these books up like so many butterflies pinned to a card, but for those of use who want to, y’know, read them it poses a problem. And it’s a series that would provide a lot of joy: the mysteries would appear (remember, I’ve only read one) to be intelligently constructed, the Epsteins had a lovely philosophy about the utilisation of new language and unfamiliar terms in helping young people grow their vocabulary and understanding through context rather than immediate definition, and the books are good, wholesome entertainment untainted by too much social realism. I suspect, given the current climate, that those above reasons might be why these aren’t going to ever be considered for a rerun, but if the 18 books in the series appeared in facsimile editions with the original covers and illustrations (c’mon, publishers, you could even get around paying one of those pesky, talented illustrators…)…I would buy them all and just sit staring at them, grinning and rocking back and forth for a solid month or two.
2. John Dickson Carr, a.k.a. Carter Dickson
You are, naturally, shocked; this is, after all, a regular vent of mine. And this in’t just from personal frustration — I’m only about six or so titles short of a full Carrian library — but more because the man is one of the totemic figures of the genre, a plotter par excellence, a writer of astonishing talent, and a creative mind that lifted the puzzle plot onto a realm only accessible to the very, very best. The Rue Morgue Press had five titles in their stable, The Hollow Man (1935) is permanently in print due to its inflated reputation (yeah, I said it), and The Mysterious Press recently put out a copy of The Devil in Velvet (1951), and until the recently-released reprint of The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941) that was yer lot for Carr in physical form. It makes zero sense — would all but two of the Beatles’ albums be allowed to vanish from record shops (or whatever the modern equivalent of a record shop is — I don’t get out much)? Would worldwide production of frying pans just stop? Carr’s unavailability makes about as much sense as either of those occurrences, but nevertheless we’re some 30 years without a decent reprint of his stuff. And I could understand if he was some third-stringer, but he’s the finest proponent of detective fiction who ever put pen to paper. If you’re reading this and you’re the person causing the log-jam…you’re denying the world the lifetime’s work of someone with an overabundance of talent who would no doubt be devastated at this turn of events. Congratulations.
3. Freeman Wills Crofts
Crofts had fared the best of everyone on this list, with a full reprint already done by the House of Stratus in the early 2000s, rare and unconscionably expensive though they now are, and fourteen of his books available in current editions thanks to the work of Harper Collins and the British Library. This does, however, leave twenty-three still languishing, and he’s been one of my favourites discoveries in recent years and I already intend to own everything, possibly in multiple editions. Crofts’ style of immensely-detailed plot construction is not to everyone’s taste, and I understand he became decidedly more moral in his later works, but that sort of claim doesn’t bother me in the least; part of reading an author’s full works is getting a sense of their own personal development and their career progresses — we don’t like reading too much in the way of samey, cookie cutter plots from someone, so imagine how bring it would be writing them…in that context a bit of variation makes perfect sense — and I will read every word the man has written. I would also like to take this opportunity to apologise to the gentleman on the Barbican Library table at Bodies from the library the other week who made the mistake of suggesting to Dolores Gordon-Smith and myself that Crofts was an author who “was cranking out six or seven books a year without being too worried about the quality” only to have us very quickly (and, I hope, politely) put him in his place. You don’t spring that sort of accusation on a Crofts fan, it would transpire…
4. E.C.R. Lorac, a.k.a. Carol Carnac
Lorac might seem an unlikely inclusion on this list, given that I’ve not fallen for her charms as hard as I have for the others hereon, but the uncommon approach Edith Caroline Rivett took to writing her detective stories has captured my imagination and I want more. The unusual framing of The Devil and the C.I.D. (1938) gives us not just an unknown body, but a body not dressed in its own clothes and instead togged up in a bespoke Satan costume with no maker’s mark or other means of identification (hell, even Crofts included some underwear). She has a great sense of setting, be it a country garden, a gloomy deserted church, or the fog-swept banks of the Thames, and if her plots lack the requisite surprise come the end, the journey to reach that comfortable familiarity has thus far proved notable in one way or another. Currently six of her 70-some books are in print through the combined efforts of Ramble House and the British Library, and the BL has another title due out soon with Murder by Matchlight (1946) (itself reissued by Dover Mystery Classics in 2015, so clearly the popular girl at all the parties). As with Crofts I’m hopeful this means that more are likely to follow from somewhere because, as with Crofts, there’s a lot about the construction of the ones I’ve read that I really enjoy, and it’s my firm intent to read further.
5. Kelley Roos
For a while there, it appeared to be the intention of the Rue Morgue Press to quietly chip away at the life’s work of Audrey Kelley and her husband William Roos, publishing as they had the first four of their collaborative efforts, with the fifth on the way before the business had to shut down. Not only were these first four books, featuring actress Haila Troy and her husband and man-of-all-work (that is, he keeps losing his job) Jeff, steadily improving in plot-quality and possessed of a lightness in the screwball-esque dialogue that most writers would sacrifice an eye for, but The Frightened Stiff (1942) would be one of my own GAD Cornerstones. That is one of the few books I’d happily hand to a neophyte and say “Read this, and if you don’t enjoy it then GAD is not for you”, confident that I would not be misleading them. Yes, in later books the Rooses’ses moved away from the Troys and started writing something more akin to thrillers, and, yes, it’s possible the spark or novelty went out of this as they wore on and the culture they were writing within changed around them…I don’t care. There’s so much invention, life, joy, and genuine talent on display in that first quartet that I’d happily read everything else if only to see how they progressed and whether they changed with the times or didn’t and ended up anachronisms. For the skill of that opening salvo, they have more than earned my commitment.
Of course, I have some previous form here, and as the canicular season is upon us I’ll have some time on my hands. I mean, don’t hold your breath or anything, but some of these might bear investigation.
Anyway, how ’bout you? What GAD goodness is missing from your life? Let’s start a plan to bring it allllllll back…