QUEEN IN DANGER (1952) by Adam Hall

Elleston Trevor doesn’t rate a single mention in The Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing (1999), and that’s a real shame. The author of some 100 novels, as Trevor he published exciting war and adventure stories that easily stand comparison with those by such contemporaries as Alistair MacLean and Hammond Innes. As ‘Adam Hall’ he produced the Quiller spy series, easily one of the best of the 60s and 70s, and The Flight of the Phoenix, so good it was filmed twice. He also used several other pseudonyms, his chess-themed whodunits featuring Sherlockian amateur sleuth Hugo Bishop originally appearing in the UK as by ‘Simon Rattray’ and ‘Hall’ in the US. In his sophomore case, Bishop hunts a killer loose in the world of haute couture …

The following review is offered as part of Kerrie’s 2012 Alphabet of Crime community meme over at her Mysteries in Paradise blog, which has reached the letter Q. As the book came out before 1960, this review is also eligible under the guidelines of Bev’s 2012 Vintage Mystery Readers Challenge for which I have selected to read and review at least eight mystery novels on the theme of amnesia. I also offer it as part of the Friday’s Forgotten Books meme run by Patti Abbott over at her Pattinase blog.

“The impossible is only the thing that happens when you never expected it”

Along with such Holmesian pronouncements, when we first meet Bishop he is cleaning out his meerschaum pipe and this case, involving an old murder and the stalking of an escaped prisoner, has more that a few nods in the direction of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Like Holmes he is a dilettante who undertakes the solving of crimes purely for his own intellectual satisfaction, frequently to the irritation of both his assistant and Scotland Yard. On the other hand, Bishop is quite young, swans around in a 1920 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, larks around playing marbles with his Siamese cat and cultivates an air of frivolity and facetiousness more in the style of Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion. He loves chess and tends to plot his investigation like tactics on a board – in fact the book is not subdivided into chapters but into ‘moves’. The Watson to his Holmes (sic) is Miss Vera Gorringe, a lady of a ‘certain age’ who, despite being exasperated by her boss’ antics, does much of the groundwork, tracking down all the background on cases and suspects that might appeal to our detective hero. It is she who informs him that Thelma Tasman is potentially in great danger from a madman who just escaped from Broadmoor prison for the mentally insane. Thelma is the eponymous Queen of the title, a fashion journalist who writes as ‘Gloria del Ray’ for a popular magazine edited by her old friend Maurice Jarrold. He is the only person on the staff who knows that Thelma is really the wife of Maurice Speight, an artist who two years before was convicted of murdering a young woman at a bombed out site in London.

“I think Speight had a damned good reason for breaking out. I don’t think it was to see his wife. or to go to the pictures. or even to visit the scene of his crime and gloat over the memory.”

Thelma is now living as the wife of aeronautics engineer Victor Tasman though she is in fact still married to Speight, who just broke out of jail and is apparently set on murder. Maurice does his best to keep her out of trouble but she refuses to leave London, gutsily deciding to brazen it out and wait for Speight to be caught, which seems likely as a full manhunt has been put in place by Inspector Frisnay of Scotland Yard.

“It’s not bad inside, except that it’s a man-trap … Inside the trap you can’t see the world for all the tress …”

Bishop becomes intrigued when he stakes out the scene of the original crime and meets Bishop. He always claimed that he found the girl already dead and was knocked out by the real murderer. He then suffered amnesia and was unable to remember who attacked him. Since going to Broadmoor his memory has partially returned and Speight has drawn a portrait of the man he is looking for. He doesn’t know who he is and where he is but is determined to find him and make him pay. Bishop decides to look into the old case, intrigued by the possibility that Speight, already a depressive before his conviction, may be telling the truth. He decides to keep an eye on Thelma, who believes Speight is jealous of her new boyfriend and plans to kill her, and so starts moving in her world of high fashion.

“There’s gold in them thar frills”

We meet some of Thelma’s colleagues, including a photographer with a roving eye, as well as the family of the murdered girl, who seems to have been busy blackmailing a lot of men after getting them in compromising position. One in particular, known as ‘The Gent’, seems to have had potentially a lot to lose if his relationship with the girl had come to light. The Bishop novels are more old-fashioned mysteries compared with the topical ‘Adam Hall’ thrillers, with our sleuth solving crimes via deductive reasoning and purely from a spirit of adventure. In this particular case the least likely suspect turns out to be the culprit, which is not therefore hard to discern, not least because there is in fact rather a paucity of said suspects.

Hall ‘s real strength lies in the various suspense sequences in which Thelma comes to believe she is being stalked by Speight, either at home or, most unnervingly, at the beauty salon where, encased in a face pack that means she can’t really see anything, she becomes certain that he is standing right next to her. The writing style, objectively standing outside the action and describing in minute physiological and psychological detail the torment the poor woman is going through, will be very familiar to fans of the Quiller series. It is integrated fairly well here into an amusing mystery – it not a great book perhaps, but full of promise and Bishop is amusingly unusual, basically lighthearted detective.

The Hugo Bishop series:

  1. Knight Sinister (1951)
  2. Queen in Danger (1952)
  3. Bishop in Check (1953)
  4. Dead Silence (1954; US title: Pawn in Jeopardy)
  5. Dead Circuit (1955 ;US title: Rook’s Gambit)
  6. Dead Sequence (1957)

The screen rights to Queen in Danger were snapped up by Hammer productions shortly after publication and the film version was released the following year with Paul Henreid cast as Bishop while the character of Gorringe was heavily re-written so that the delightful Kay Kendal could play the role. Known as Mantrap in the UK (and not to be confused with the hyphenated 1961 Hollywood thriller Man-Trap starring David Janssen), it was released in the US as Man in Hiding. Even more confusingly the movie credits the book source onscreen not to Rattray or Hall but to Elleston Trevor. Crazy titles and confusing credits aside, I  shall be reviewing that film here next week. Until then, it’s your move …

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

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This entry was posted in 2012 Alphabet of Crime, 2012 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge, Adam Hall, Amnesia, Crime Fiction Alphabet, Film Noir, Hammer Studios, London, Scene of the crime, Terence Fisher. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to QUEEN IN DANGER (1952) by Adam Hall

  1. Sergio – A very worthy series I think, although I will admit I’m not as familiar with it as you. I happen to fond of plays on words and themes such as you find in these novels, so I find that especially appealing. I’m glad you featured Queen in Danger – an innovative choice for this letter.

    • Thanks you very much Margot. The mixture of chess, amnesia, London in the immediate post-war period and a detective that truly belongs to the pre-war era and suspense sequences in th e’modern’ manner do make for a heady mix but I think the book just about gets away with it. It’s easy to see why the series didn’t last much beyond its initial half dozen entries as it is a rather curious mixture. Stout’s Nero Wolfe is the only contemporary author who seemed to really succeed in combining the cozy and hardboiled traditions with complete success – but then he was a real one of a kind!

  2. TracyK says:

    I have been wanting to sample the Quiller series for a while, but had no knowledge of the Hugo Bishop series. These sound good also. More books to add to my list. Sigh. Where will I find the time or the room? I will eagerly await your post on the film.

  3. Colin says:

    Never read anything by this guy, though I’m familiar with him through the film adaptations of some of his work. Hammer’s Wings of Danger is, I believe derived from one of his books too.

    Looking forward to the upcoming movie review. BTW, from memory, he does rate an entry in Steinbrunner and Penzler’s Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection.

    • Thanks Colin – funnily enough, I was just watching Wings of Danger yesterday and will post a review in a couple of weeks. The original book, Dead on Course was co-written by Trevor with Packham Webb but, confusingly, published under another of Trevor’s non-de-plumes, ‘Mansell Black’ but also as by Webb and Trevor Dudley-Smith, the birth nme of ‘Elleston Trevor’! On-screen, even more confusingly, I think it just says based on a story by Webb and ‘Elleston Trevor’ … He used about 10 pseudonyms over the years – the Quiller books of the 60s and 70s and the other titles as by ‘Adam Hall’ are probably his best known and with good reason.

    • PS Hall / Trevor does get a mention in many other encyclopedias but I was stunned that both the author and Quiller were clearly excluded from any kind of mention in the Oxford guide …

      • Colin says:

        He seems to have been extraordinarily prolific – odd how such writers seem to just vanish from the store shelves.

        • In his day he was I think pretty popular, with many of them filmed – beyond the ones already mentioned there were also such movies adaptations as Dunkirk (1958) and 80,000 Suspects (which I am also going to review shortly, both the book (The Pillars of Midnight) and the 1963 Val Gust film) – there is a very throrough bibliography over at the Quiller website: http://www.quiller.net/trevor/bibliography.html. Trevor seems to have lived his life as excitingly off the page as on from what I can gather. The later Quiller books are a bit grumpy and humourless but Hall could generate suspense in confined quarters like no other.

  4. I read several novels in the Quiller series and enjoyed them. As Cavershamragu points out, the later Quiller books are a bit grumpy, but the suspense is constantly good.

  5. Yvette says:

    I kind of think that Rattray is not the most desirable of pen names, but I could be wrong. At any rate, thanks for letting me know about this series. Sounds intriguing. I think I would like Bishop. For me, that’s half the battle.

    • It’s definitely not one of Trevor’s best soubriquets, is it? The one time Trevor Dudley-Smith also used Howard North, Roger Fitzalan, Mansell Black, Trevor Burgess, Warwick Scott, Caesar Smith and Lesley Stone. The Bishop series is good fun though – the more I think about it, the more he (and the books) reminds me of Allingham and Campion. Not as varied or as well written, but very good company to be in none the less.

  6. scott says:

    I read a few Quiller books way back when. :)

  7. Sergio, I’m not familiar with Elleston Trevor but I certainly am with Adam Hall whose paperbacks I recently came across at my secondhand bookshop. I think I saw a couple of his novels though I don’t think they included QUEEN IN DANGER. I’ll have to check it out. I have put back quite a few backs because the writers were unknown to me at the time only to find out later that they were pseudonyms for someone really worth reading, like Trevor for instance. Any comparison with Alistair MacLean, an old favourite, is enough to make me want to read an author I haven’t read before, not to mention the chess-theme. Now you know me and chess go a long way back…

  8. Pipe smoking, an old murder and Scotland Yard. This is something I’ve been missing too long! Added to my wishlist! Are you familiar with a series of detective stories from the 50′s that had a gold dove embossed on the front cover by any chance? I came across an inquiry on a blog. They were hardback editions, I’m thinking some kind of book club edition or something.

    • Hi Peggy, hope you enjoy the adventured of Hugo Bishop when you get the chance – good clean fun! I did see Steve’s post and the various responses but must admit to being a bit puzzled about the ‘Gold Dove’ emblem – doesn’t ring a bell at all. Probably turn out to be a bronze eagle or something!

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