Found among a collection of publisher’s file copies from the Gollancz archive a novel by E.H.W. Meyerstein. It was his last work, as he died in the year of its publication (1952). It was a bibliomystery set in Hampstead entitled Tom Tallion. The blurb and printed notes on the sleeves of thejacket are lengthy and enthusiastic and its anonymous author had probably read the whole book and may have even been a fan of Meyerstein’s work.
Connoisseurs have long regarded Mr Meyerstein as one of the wittiest and most urbane novelists of the day… This book has the same delightful blend of the prosaic and the fantastic [as his last novel Robin Wastraw]. Mr Meyerstein writes of the most startling events as if they were commonplaces, and through his eyes the ordinary business of living takes on a fabulous quality.
It would be a pity to describe the plot, though we could hardly spoil the reader’s pleasure by doing so. Tom, like Robin, is a reflective boy brought up in a scholarly and eccentric environment, haunted by echoes of murder and arson, pursued by a middle-aged woman, remaining detached from all such extravagances of behaviour and quietly following his own interests and calling. There are exquisite episodes. There’s the day, for instance, when Tom, bored with ‘nature study’ at school, eats the pomegranate which he is supposed to be drawing, then sketches it from memory with a sudden assurance – he thereby discovers a unique theory of art, and painting becomes his vocation. There is the business of old Mr Wilkins sudden death. There was Captain Clements, who erupts into Tom’s life with his sinister interest in the occult. There is Mrs Heene, the missionary author of God or Dog? who abruptly loses her faith and raise a flag with the inscription: “THERE IS NO GOD (MRS) HIRAM HEENE.’
Found in a thriller by George Sims (1923 -1999) an interesting letter about the book. Sims was a successful and much admired dealer in rare books, something of a poet and a novelist with several of his books being about the book trade (bibliomysteries.) This book Who is Cato? (Macmillan, London 1981) actually has an art dealer, one William Marshall (rich but disillusioned), as its hero. He becomes involved in espionage through his connection to ‘Intelligence’ in WW2 and finds himself working against the KGB many years later while on holiday in Majorca…
The letter from Sims to a woman friend, who ran a bookshop, is on headed notepaper from his cottage ‘Peacocks’ in Hurst, Berkshire. It reads:
Many thanks for your helpful cheering letter. I was glad to have it. Probably I’ve told you that when Cato was published we were in America and our daughter phoned to say that there had been a mysterious burglary at our cottage in which nothing was taken. When I came back I was puzzled as to how an entry was made into our cottage and my office; nothing was missing not even some £10 notes in the office drawer… exactly like the burglary which took place at William Marshall’s cottage near Hambleden!!
Obviously someone thought I knew more than I did. I was to blame as I had signed the official secrets document when I was at the SCU, and there was quite a deal of fact mixed with the fiction. Love George.
The S.CU. ‘Special Communications Units’ were outstations of S.I.S (‘Special Intelligence Services’) involved mostly with radio communications. They were disbanded in 1946. Sims, known to be irascible, appears quite philosophic about this incident. His books are collected, especially the bibliomysteries, also his excellent and still mouthwatering catalogues
From the Peter Haining papers, this typed manuscript by the great researcher and expert on British comics and periodicals W.O.G. ('Bill') Lofts (1923-1997). It is interesting that Fleming got even close to writing a Sexton Blake, a bit like J.K. Rowling deciding to do a new Secret Seven adventure (actually not a bad idea..)
Sexton Blake and James Bond
I must confess that I greatly enjoyed the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming. Alas, there were only about sixteen of them as he died a premature death in 1964. Since then a number of other writers have penned them, but never read as well as the creator.
The first in 1955 was entitled 'Casino Royal' when the author an ex-M.I.5 man, certainly was authentic in every detail. The films that commenced in 1963 with 'Dr. No'*. I also greatly enjoyed, especially those featuring Sean Connery. Roger Moore his successor was just as good, though even more suitable to the Saint character, with his type of humour.