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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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’.
- 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.