Missing Marvels



As many of you know, for several years now I’ve been running a column called ‘Invisible Ink’ in the Independent on Sunday about authors who wrote the popular books which have vanished from bookshelves. Every once in a while I update my favourite ‘missings’, so here’s the current revised list, and you can find more each week in the IoS.

  1. Maryann Forrest wrote three novels, including the terrifying ‘Here: Away From It All’, then vanished. Her real name, it transpired, was Polly Hope, and she gave up because she was busy designing the Globe Theatre with her husband. ‘Here’ is an adult ‘Lord of the Flies’ novel, unsentimental and shattering. It has been republished.
  1. Nicholas Monsarrat wrote ‘The Cruel Sea’ and many other naval dramas, but controversy followed with ‘The Story Of Esther Costello’ about TV evangelism and fundraising; it upset the teaching staff surrounding the blind Helen Keller, who felt that its criticisms were levelled at them. His books were once everywhere; now they seem to have disappeared.
  1. Pamela Branch died you after writing just four hilarious crime novels, and was by all accounts quite a character, as well as being very glamorous. I’m just reading ‘Murder’s Little Sister’, about a hated agony aunt who falls out of a window. Once you get on her wavelength, she’s delicious and very witty.
  1. Alexander Baron wrote an epic novel of Edwardian Jewish gangs, ‘King Dido’, remains a personal favourite; here is a tale that outlines, with infinite care, the causal link between poverty and crime. Its final pages are utterly heartbreaking. It’s one of the greatest and least read novels about London ever written.
  1. JB Priestley is surprisingly unread these days, ‘Angel Pavement’ is a detailed portrait of London seen by the employees of a veneer company, when the genteel firm is wrecked by a tough new employee. It’s funny, moving, and a window into a forgotten London.
  1. James Hadley Chase wrote ‘No Orchids For Miss Blandish’, a tale of kidnap and rape that caused controversy and became a smashing success. A genuine one-sitting page-turner, it was unlike anything that had been published by an English author before, packed with surprises, non-explicit sex and violence. He supposedly wrote it in a day.
  1. Rachel Ingalls wrote novellas, a format which has fallen from fashion, but tales like ‘Mrs Caliban’ pack a real punch. She’s been named one of the 20th century’s greatest writers but no-one has heard of her. There’s a US republication, but I haven’t seen a UK one.
  1. Hans Fallada‘s life was even more disastrous and extraordinary than his books. He shot his best friend in a duel, spent time in a lunatic asylum, became a morphine addict and went mad.  Try ‘Alone In Berlin’, a true story about an apartment building during WWII. ‘Wolf Among Wolves’ is almost unbearably dark.
  1. Dennis Wheatley is the odd one out here – he’s a fairly dreadful writer, but rather fun. He went from lousy crime and historical novels to pulpy tales of the supernatural before Churchill asked him to work out what the Germans were up to… ‘The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult’ was hugely popular in its time, and Hammer adapted his work, their best being ‘The Devil Rides Out’, although I think his best book is ‘The Haunting of Toby Jugg’.
  1. Gladys Mitchell’s sleuth Mrs Bradley was a wizened crone who tested the constraints of the murder genre by pushing them to breaking point. Like the more successful Miss Marple she provided insights into the cases the police overlooked. Unlike Miss Marple she could be a real bitch.





21 comments on “Missing Marvels”

  1. Chris Lancaster says:

    “Here: Away From it All” is an excellent read; I found it purely by chance many years ago in an unwanted book clearance at the local library, thought it looked interesting, and picked it up for the princely sum of 50p. I think the author’s name is Maryann, however, not Margaret.

  2. Roger says:

    A lot of Fallada’s books have been reprnted recently, possibly even newly-translated. I agree they’re worth reading.
    Alexander Baron’s From the City, From the Plough is a WWII classic.
    I just read Angel Pavement to a lady in her nineties who read it when it was first published. Something went wrong with Priestley, going by the books I’d read which were later -1950s and 1960s – and not very good.

  3. admin says:

    An unforgivable mistake on my part Chris, seeing how well I came to know her…

  4. DebbyS says:

    Could I suggest another name for your list? Emma Lathen (in fact the duo of Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart). Pretty much out of print now, I think, but I well remember the Gollancz thriller hardback copies with their distinctive yellow dustjackets. The sleuth was John Putnam Thatcher, a Wall Street banker, and the style wryly humorous.

  5. Gaz says:

    Wheatley isn’t what one could call a great stylist, but he is a lot of fun, like you say. He only really wrote one crime novel, and was basically a thriller writer (he branched out to Black Magic stories in the mid-30s and only started on the historicals after WWII). THE HAUNTING OF TOBY JUGG starts out well, but has a laugh-out-loud ending which is not perhaps what one looks for in a thriller. I personally think that TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER is better, being surprisingly well written, having a really satisfying ending, and being perhaps the only action thriller where the hero is an Interior Designer who calls his Mother ‘Mumsie’. One of his best straight thrillers is THE GOLDEN SPANIARD, which is set during the Spanish Civil War and is surprisingly even-handed politically. Another is THE ISLAND WHERE TIME STANDS STILL, which is a really oddball effort by totally satisfying. If you can find a copy, THE DECEPTION PLANNERS, which is an autobiographical piece about his WWII adventures, is also fascinating.

  6. Alan says:

    An ex-library copy of Here-Away from it All by Maryann Forrest is currently for sale on eBay for £450!!!

  7. Peter Arcane says:

    I remember my dad telling me Dennis Wheatley went a bit loopy with the occult stuff. Having just Google’d it I’m guessing he got that a little wrong as it would seem Dennis ‘expressed hostility’ to the Dark Arts.

  8. agatha hamilton says:

    Always glad to see Psmela Branch here. I think Lion in the Cellsr and Wooden Overcoat are her best. The Ka of Gifford Hilary terrified me as a child. Still don’t like to think about it.
    What about Rex Stout, and his Nero Wolf series. With Archie as super secretary, orchids and Fritz, the best chef in New York?
    Oh for a chef! Even a second ranker I’d settle for. If I never had to cook another meal I’d be a happy woman. Or an even happier woman.

  9. Richard Browne says:

    Thank you for this list. I found three Pamela Branch novels at my local library. They were reprinted in 2006 by an outfit calling themselves ‘Rue Morgue Vintage Mystery.’

    Looking forward to these.

  10. Dave says:

    Thanks for the introduction to Alexander Baron.

    Angel Pavement is now also on my list.

  11. agatha hamilton says:

    Oh, dear, after a long day that extra glass of wine tells on the spelling.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    I read all the Emma Lathens I could get my hands on, pretty much as they came out. Mr. Thatcher was a very good investment banker but an excellent investigator. The little scenes at the New York bank were always interesting and often amusing, especially when they involved the much married vice president.
    I always thought that Rex Stout had the right way to live; make a fortune from a simple idea and then sit back and write novels. Archie was great but it didn’t do to keep track of the years because if you did you could only call him a dirty old man. Stout tried to set his plots in the present without aging his characters at all, a very difficult bit of legerdemain indeed.

  13. Gaz says:

    Stout had so much contempt for the idea of aging his heroes that in one of the later novels they meet a character from one of the previous stories. He was a young man in the first book, and he is now a father with a grown up son. Wolfe and Archie are, however, not one day older than they were in the previous novel. I love this! Who cares that the continuity doesn’t make sense as long as you enjoy the story? John Dickson Carr stopped using Sir Henry Merrivale in his later books because he felt that the ‘Old Man’ would be too old for credibility. That was a terrible shame, and actually rather silly. I have never read Carr because of his uncompromising realism.

  14. jan says:

    Wheatley’s daughter Maria Wheatley is a big noise in the earth mysteries world she lectures frequently in Avebury Stonehenge and other ley sites

  15. jan says:

    JAMES BLISH theres an author deserves to be remembered

  16. Tony Walker says:

    We’re going to Malta next week, so I’ve been reading Monsarratt’s ‘The Kapillan of Malta’ for background. An excellent story, full of detail about the island’s history, with believable charcters and a story that keeps you turning the pages. Excellent stuff! Must hunt out more of Monsarratt’s books.

    As to Priestley, I think his later novel, ‘Lost Empires’ is almost (but not quite) on a par with ‘The Good Companions’, a book that I reread at least once a year. As an old friend, who owned a used bookstore, once said; “If a book’s worth reading once, it’s worth reading twice”.

  17. A neglected writer worth celebrating is Miles Gibson who wrote a brilliant black comedy about a serial killer called Mackerel Burton in ‘The Sandman’ which I feel sure would appeal to Bryant & May fans. It’s especially good on the
    seedier side of London.

    Gibson also wrote a wonderful bawdy comedy about a Victorian painter / pioneer photographer in ‘Kingdom Swann’
    which is warm and hilarious. He writes prose which is a sheer joy to read.

    How these two excellent books can be so overlooked is astounding. Gibson – who is very reclusive – is still alive and deserves a major revival.

  18. Helen Martin says:

    Or three times or more. Once only works for those with photographic memories.

  19. Gaz says:

    Jan: It seems that Maria is the daughter of Dennis Wheatley, but this is a different Dennis Wheatley from the novelist.

    Tony & Helen: Or, as I say, a book is worth reading twice when you realise that the book you are reading is the same one that you previously read when it was published under another title!

  20. chris hughes says:

    Loved Dennis Wheatley when I was in my teens and remember being scared rigid reading To The Devil A Daughter while under a hairdryer – loved the Hammer film too.

    Haven’t read Alexander Baron but remember that Iain Sinclair mentions him as a writer about London – also Roland Camberton, Nigel Fountain and Patrick Wright.

    And coincidentally, picked up a copy of Gladys Mitchell’s ‘Speedy Death’ this morning in a charity shop in Whitstable!

  21. chris hughes says:

    Have you seen the review of a book called The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards (in the Guardian last Saturday)? It looks really good with plenty of writers who’ve dropped out of memory to try to rediscover.

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