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Bookends: Two “reads” for the road February 6, 2015

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Two “reads” for the road

By Dan Davidson

August 20, 2014

– 838 words –

 

Last year I introduced this column to the work of the multi-styled John Creasey, an incredibly prolific British writer who made his living with his typewriter from 1935 to 1973. He wrote every sort of book from romance to western to science fiction, but he is best known for his mystery work.

He wrote at pulp magazine speed, with the result that he often had anything from a dozen to a score of books in the bookstores each year. As a result of this he used 28 different pseudonyms, both male and female, including Gordon Ashe, M E Cooke, Norman Deane, Robert Caine Frazer, Patrick Gill, Michael Halliday, Charles Hogarth, Brian Hope, Colin Hughes, Kyle Hunt, Abel Mann, Peter Manton, JJ Marric, Richard Martin, Rodney Mattheson, Anthony Morton and Jeremy York.

So prolific was he that at least a dozen books featuring half a dozen of his characters continued to appear for several years after his death. They were his writing, not the farmed out ghost writing that has become popular in recent years after a famous writer dies.

As I mentioned last fall, Creasey’s facility in various styles was such that his 14 different series have quite distinct flavours. The two I’m dealing with this week don’t seem at all alike.

 

The Baron ReturnsThe Baron Returns

By John Creasey (as Anthony Morton)

House of Stratus

202 pages

$16.05

unabridged reading

Narrated By Carl Prekopp

Audible Studios

Length: 6 hrs and 36 mins

 

The tales of John Mannering, known as the Baron, started out being something like a more straight-laced version of Leslie Charteris’ Simon Templar (The Saint). Mannering is still a jewel thief in this second outing (of the 47 books in the series), but most of the capers in this book stem from his efforts to get a friend of his (the man who would become his father-in-law eventually) out of the clutches of a shyster solicitor/financier who has made a career of fleecing honest men and women.

This is a caper novel, and the plot mostly centers on several burglaries committed by the Baron in pursuit of justice for his girlfriend’s father. The break-ins are narrated in some detail, and Mannering is shown to have a bit of split personality. He embodies the Baron as he gathers his tools, slips on his outlaw mask and moves into action. In those moments he ceases to think of himself as Mannering, the wealthy man about town, and becomes his alter ego.

As the Baron he used a number of disguises, and actually has a complete third identity that he uses to divest himself of his stolen goods when dealing with fences. That sedate travelling salesman has a house in another part of the city and often lives there for days at a time.

The structure of the book is that there is a theft, followed by Mannering’s continuing attempts to persuade Inspector Bristow of Scotland Yard that he had nothing to do with it. Bristow is absolutely convinced that Mannering is the Baron, but simply cannot manage to prove it, so there is a constant sparring between the two, and a couple of sequences where the police lay careful traps that the Baron just manages to evade by the skin of his teeth.

 

The House of the BearsThe House of the Bears

By John Creasey

House of Stratus

234 pages

$13.20

 

Unabridged reading

Narrated by Stephan Greif

Audible Studios

Length: 7 hrs and 42 mins

 

Creasey created the character of Dr. Stanislaus Alexander Palfrey (Sap to his closest associates and his wife) during WWII and made him the head of a spy organization called Z5. By the time of this eighth book of the 34 in the series (written in 1947), Palfrey seems to be on leave from Z5. He actually is a doctor and we meet him travelling to the Yorkshire Moors at the request of another physician. At Sir Rufus Marne’s House of the Bears there has been an accident and Marnes’ daughter lies terribly injured after a fall from the minstrel’s gallery, which Palfrey discovers was no accident.

This book starts out feeling like an Agatha Christie style manor murder mystery in which the bodies keep piling up without any rhyme or reason. What’s missing from this formula is any sense of who the murderer might be. At least that’s the case until about half way through the book, when the plot takes a sharp turn into thriller territory, with some post-war Nazi trappings and the sort of world-wide danger from a power mad schemer that Ian Fleming would work into his James Bond novels when he began those with Casino Royale in 1953.

 

The audio book versions of these books make great long distance driving fare, running fro six to seven hours each. The productions are solid and the readers are interesting. The Audible productions are digital downloads that cost about $20 each, somewhat less if you subscribe to the monthly service.

 

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