Leopold Horace Ognall (1908-1979) was a prolific author with close to 90 novels under his two pseudonyms, Hartley Howard and Harry Carmichael. He wasLeopold Horace Ognall (1908-1979) was a prolific author with close to 90 novels under his two pseudonyms, Hartley Howard and Harry Carmichael. He was born in Montreal, educated in Scotland and worked as a journalist before starting his fiction career. His primary series characters under the Harry Carmichael name are insurance assessor John Piper and crime reporter Quinn. The main focus of his Hartley Howard line are Philip Scott, head of a successful toy company and secretly the head of a British spy unit, and the New York private eye Glenn Bowman. The author once declared thirty-eight year old Bowman to be "the toughest wise-cracking private eye in the business."
One of the earliest Bowman novels is The Last Vanity from 1952, the third in that series. The novel opens with Edwin Newsome, a man worried about the health of his brother, Harold, fearing he may be the victim of steady poisoning by his brother's new—and much younger—wife, Moira. Edwin hires P.I. Glenn Bowman to investigate, and Bowman poses as an ex-con to get himself hired as a second chauffeur in the Harold's household. He soon discovers many under-currents beneath the surface involving family and staff alike, much more than a scheming young wife after her husband's wealth.
Hartley Howard's style is solidly in the Golden Age era, with the British author trying valiantly to emulate the American hard-boiled detective writing of Raymond Chandler and the others who followed in Chandler's footsteps. There are a few British-isms that creep in here and there, although they're relatively minor. The novel doesn't rise to Chandler's level, perhaps, but it's still entertaining and Bowman's character is sympathetic and engaging.
Although Ognall/Howard's books were apparently never published in the States and weren't even all that easy to find in the U.K. The Thrilling Detective site notes that Howard at some point moved to Italy during the Sixties and his Glenn Bowman private eye books were very popular among Italian readers during that period. They apparently did well in Germany, where almost his entire output was translated.
Both Leopold Horace Ognall and his books appear to be largely forgotten (save perhaps his novel Assignment K, made into a movie starring Stephen Boyd as spy Philip Scott), but the author's son Harry became a high court judge and conducted the hearings regarding former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet....more
Angus MacVicar (1908-2001) was a Scottish author of crime thrillers, juvenile science fiction and nonfiction. His suspense novel THE SINGING SPIDER (FAngus MacVicar (1908-2001) was a Scottish author of crime thrillers, juvenile science fiction and nonfiction. His suspense novel THE SINGING SPIDER (From 1938) was set against the backdrop of Mussolini and impending war with Italy. It follows young Archie Campbell, an intelligent, scrupulously honest and brave young man who is offered a job as a secret agent by Sir Robert Vanburgh, the Secretary for Diplomatic Affairs and also a friend of Archie's dead father. Archie's job is to visit the quiet little fishing port of Bennachie in order to uncover the secret that was discovered by another murdered agent, known as D7—who was also Sir Robert's son.
Archie takes the job hoping to find redemption following a scandalous love affair that left him a broken man and a drunkard, and soon finds himself immersed in the picturesque village of Bennachie playing the not-too-far-off role of a recovering invalid. Archie tries to uncover the identity of the Singing Spider-—an Italian spy and master of disguise thought to be behind D7's murder—-with the help of an American Professor, a local rogue who's also seeking redemption, and a lovely young minister's daughter. But first Archie has to find out how the Singing Spider is tied to a puzzling phrase that translates as "The Pit of Baal" and the mysterious red lights at the Bennachie stone, an artifact the Professor believes dates back to the ancient Phoenicians.
It's definitely a novel of its time, thematically and stylistically, but there's a good rendering of the Scottish setting that was so similiar to areas MacVicar knew well, and to its characters. There's also a bit of naive sweetness to it that you don't often find in spy-themed suspense novels, no doubt a nod to the author's Presbyterian roots and his young-adult writings. It's definitely a G- or PG+ type of plot. The Singing Spider was made into a radio program for BBC Scotland in 1950, although I doubt any traces of it exist. As a matter of fact, there is very little about the author of this book on the Web, and unless you can find his works at your local library, you may find it difficult to get your hands on them....more
Mary Stewart was born in 1916 in Sunderland, County Durham, England and graduated from Durham University, later serving as a lecturer in English LanguMary Stewart was born in 1916 in Sunderland, County Durham, England and graduated from Durham University, later serving as a lecturer in English Language and Literature there. She turned to writing novels in the 1950s and is considered to be one of the founders of "romantic suspense." Her marriage to Sir Frederick Stewart, one-time chairman of the Geology Department of Edinburgh University, led to extensive travels that provided inspiration for the detailed exotic settings her novels are famous for.
One such novel heavily dependent upon a sense of place is 1964's This Rough Magic, a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel in 1965 (beaten out by John Le Carré's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold). Lucy Waring, a young British stage actress whose first big play folded abruptly, is having a hard time finding work, so she accepts an invitation to stay with her married sister on the idyllic Ionian island of Corfu. At least, it appears idyllic, but on her first morning there, someone shoots at a tame dolphin, a young Greek boy drowns off the coast of Albania, and soon afterward a smuggler washes up dead in a nearby cove. The prime suspect is one of their neighbors, the handsome, arrogant son of a famous British actor-turned-hermit, although he's not the only one with secrets to hide.
In the story, Corfu is the alleged locale for Shakespeare's The Tempest, which provides plenty of fodder for tie-ins to Shakespeare's play, including the character of Sir Julian Gale (who is a Lawrence Olivier clone), elements such as a deliberate take on Prospero's books, a girl named Miranda and a touch of Ariel's music and epigraphs from the play prefacing each chapter, along with plenty of other literary references.
Setting is another major aspect of the novel, not surprising since the author has said she is blessed with a very good visual memory, "almost like a movie camera. When I start describing something in a book, I find myself putting down things I didn't know I'd caught. I'm a sponge, a happy thing for a writer to be."
Stewart is also solid in her characterizations for the most part, with Lucy, the typical plucky-and-feisty Stewart heroine, and the various supporting cast members fleshed out in vivid detail, particularly the aging hermit actor, Sir Julian. As this is "romantic suspense," there are a couple of love-story angles involved. However, they actually take a back seat to the suspense elements that start off slowly but build steadily until the end, which includes a bona fide deus ex machina (involving a young man, a motorcycle and the island's patron saint, Spiridion).
As for male readers hesitant to pick up a Stewart book, Anthony Boucher noted that "it would take a suspiciously over-male he-man to resist the charm and narrative vigor of Mary Stewart's adventure stories." Stewart's strong story-telling skills are indeed evident, something she once commented on: "I've written stories since I was three and a half, and I think you're either born with the storyteller's flair or you're not. You can learn much about the craft of writing, but you either have the storyteller's flair or you don't. It's no virtue of mine. It's just there."...more