Saturday, 15 March 2014

Walter the Wordsmith

This blog is always happy to hear from writer and editor Keith Chapman.

Once a member of the editorial team at the Sexton Blake Library and later editor of the Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine, Keith now writes westerns in the Black Horse series under the name Chap O`Keefe and has recently been involved in re-issuing his O`Keefe titles as e-books ( ).

His main reason for contacting me was not to plug his own works, but to discuss a recent discovery he had made concerning Walter Tyrer, a writer we both admire.

Walter Tyrer circa 1956

Tyrer cut his literary teeth writing schoolboy fiction and later turned his hand to romance, westerns and detective fiction. It is his work in the latter category that interests me, in particular the many stories he contributed to the Sexton Blake Library in the post-war period.

While many regard him as something of a `pulp` writer (not necessarily in a bad way), I personally feel that Tyrers`  Blake tales are works of great craftsmanship, featuring as they often do an array of outlandish characters and giving full rein to his rather quirky sense of humour.  

That`s enough background details. We return now to Keiths`  missive. Going through old papers relating to his tenure as editor of the Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine, our man had discovered correspondence and a short story from one J T Lang, which was a pseudonym used by Walter. The story is believed to have remained unpublished, probably because Micron, the firm which employed Keith and at that time published the EWMM, was about to go under.  There is also evidence that Mr Lang/Tyrer had had some difficulties obtaining payment from Micron for stories already published, which may also have been a factor.

To his credit, Keith decided to see to it that this story (it`s a suspense/crime story called A Professional Job) saw the light of day. Clearly it was necessary to establish who, if anyone, held the rights to Walters` works. Steve Holland at Bear Alley ( )  was helpful and provided general advice but it was beginning to look as if the trail might go cold.

Just then an almost-forgotten memory emerged  from the dark recesses of  my tiny mind. Some time ago, author Ray Elmitt had contacted me via another blog of  mine, . He had been researching  the history of his home and had found that it had previously been the address of a fellow-writer - Walter Tyrer. At around the same time he had some contact with Walters` daughter Jennifer who had paid a visit to the house. Could he help ?

Indeed he could, and the upshot of this story is that Walter Tyrers` two daughters have raised no objection to this previously unavailable work being brought into the public gaze.

The purpose of this article is not to over-emphasise my own miniscule contribution to the matter, but to pass on the information that , due largely to the efforts of Keith (Chap O`Keefe)  Chapman, A Professional Job will soon be appearing both online and in print courtesy of David Cranmers` webzine .

I`m sure Keith would join me in thanking Ray Elmitt and Walter Tyrers` daughter Jennifer for their warm support and enthusiasm.

It goes without saying that it is enormously gratifying to see this story book brought out of the shadows, and to have played a part in that, however small. Any enquiries would be best directed either to David at his site, or to Keith c/o .


The black and white photo of Walter Tyrer circa 1956 was supplied by Ray Elmitt. The other illustrations are of Tyrer SBL titles from my own collection. Although A Professional Job is not actually a Sexton Blake title I thought they would give a bit of added interest. Anyway, I`ve gone on far too long and I`ll shut up now.

Friday, 14 March 2014

The Detection Club - The Floating Admiral - HarperCollins - circa 2011 (reprint)

The Detection Club* - The Floating Admiral - HarperCollins - Circa 2011 (reprint)

I assumed unquestioningly that I would enjoy this book, which just shows how wrong you can be !

The book was published in 1932 and the idea was that a number of members of the Detection Club ( ) would each write a chapter and that it would presumably showcase the talents of the various members of the group.

For myself, I thought it would be interesting in that it brought together under one cover both household names (Christie, Sayers)and others less well-known (Victor L Whitechurch) or indeed largely forgotten (Milward Kennedy). The fact that I already own a number of collections of  crime fiction short stories from that era which perform exactly the same function never occurred to me !

To my surprise, I felt that some of the `household name` contributors under-performed, and I have to single out Agatha Christie for particular criticism here. By contrast, Henry Wade and Freeman Wills Crofts both seem to have gone to some trouble to try to get the thing back on course.

The story reaches it`s nadir during Ronald A Knox`s chapter. Ronald makes use of a technique used by a number of detective story writers of the period, that of having the detective sit back and reflect on various points concerning the case which remain unresolved. There is nothing wrong with this in principle, it helps the reader recall what has happened and gives them some idea, hopefully where the story is going.

In Mr Knoxs`  case however, the detectives` ruminations run to 39 numbered paragraphs occupying around 25 pages !

 At that point I very nearly threw the book across the room. Instead I persevered but it got no better. I am not at all surprised that Anthony Berkeleys` closing chapter had the heading Clearing up the Mess.

Give it a try if you want, but I strongly suggest you borrow a copy before forking out good money for this.

The dust jacket of the modern reprint features a rather undistinguished illustration of a rowing boat adrift on a river. The hardcover, however, features a reproduction of the cover design for the first edition (above). Not to modern tastes, and not especially to my taste, but interesting nonetheless.

* Members of The Detection Club who contributed to this volume ; Canon Victor L Whitechurch, G D H Cole , M Cole, Henry Wade, Agatha Christie, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Dorothy L Sayers, Ronald A Knox, Freeman Wills Croft, Edgar Jepson, Clemence Dane, Anthony Berkeley.

In addition to her own contribution, Dorothy L Sayers contributed an Introduction and G K Chesterton added a Prologue. The modern reprint features a Foreword by Simon Brett.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Agatha Christie - Parker Pyne Investigates - Harper Collins - circa 2011 (reprint)

Agatha Christie - Parker Pyne Investigates - HarperCollins - circa 2011 (reprint)

"For 35 years of my life I have been engaged in the compiling of statistics in a government office. Now I have retired and it has occurred to me to use the experience I have gained in a novel fashion. It is all so simple. Unhappiness can be classified under five main heads - no more, I assure you. Once you know the cause of a malady, the remedy should not be impossible."

So does Parker Pyne introduce himself and his work to prospective clients. You will readily appreciate that, while he does on occasion undertake a bit of sleuthing,  he is not by any means a detective per se.

The first story in this collection was a definite winner to my mind but I was not at all sure that Pynes` actvities really would merit a whole book of stories. Maybe it would have been better for Ms Christie to quit while she was ahead where Mr P was concerned ?

The next story did not seem as good but I persevered and I have to say, Agatha was right and I was wrong. It`s true there are a couple of stories that I didn`t much care for, but taken as a whole the collection works.

It is necessarily a touch old-fashioned (the book first appeared in 1934). It may not be to everyones` taste but if you fancy trying something a bit different you may wish to do what I did and borrow a modern reprint from your local library.