Sunday, 4 May 2008

Dover and Marple

An odd coincidence. Only a few days after posting about Marple in Cheshire, I bought, via eBay, a first edition of Dover Beats the Band by Joyce Porter. Porter created other series characters – Eddie Burke and ‘the Hon. Con’ – but Chief Inspector Dover of Scotland Yard was much more popular. I even have a distant memory of his appearing on television – in, I think, an episode in that wonderful but now forgotten 1960s series ‘Detective’, which saw many great characters brought to the small screen, sometimes for the one and only time.

Dover was a comically unpleasant figure, aided and abetted by the long-suffering Sergeant McGregor. In Dover Beats the Band (which has a rather amusing dust jacket illustration by Keith Jones), Dover is described as ‘a detective who’s never rally gone beyond the stage of pinning every murder on to the victim’s spouse.) The law of diminishing returns notoriously applies to comic detectives, and many people reckon that Dover One (which I read years ago and enjoyed) remains the best of Porter’s books. Julian Symons scathingly said that the ‘Hon Con’ books are ‘best left unbroached’ and I suppose he may not have been on Porter’s Christmas card list after that. But I’m looking forward to giving this novel a go.

Back to Marple. When I looked up Porter, it turned out that she was born there. Small world. There haven’t, over the years, been many Cheshire-born crime writers. Joyce Porter died back in 1990, before my first novel was published, and she’s now largely forgotten. This is no doubt because her attempts to stretch her crime writing skills in fresh directions were not particularly successful. But the creation of Dover surely earns her a place in the list of writers worth remembering.

8 comments:

Jane Finnis said...

Radio 4 dramatised some of the Inspector Dover stories - great fun, and I kept listening despite (or maybe because of) Dover's not-very-likeable qualities. I'm interested that Marple is a place as well as a famous amateur sleuth!

Martin Edwards said...

What a pity I missed them. If only they could be translated to CD, like the Paul Temple mysteries.

Michael Walters said...

Marple's most definitely a place - I've lived here for ten years and we have at least one other crime writer in the vicinity (along with the Christie connection). I'd heard of Joyce Porter but have never read her and had no idea about the Marple connection - must give her a try. Another writer born in Marple was Edmund Cooper, best remembered as a science fiction writer but also author of at least one crime novel.

Martin Edwards said...

Edmund Cooper is a name I don't know, Michael. Could you tell us more about him, and his solitary crime novel, please?

Michael Walters said...

Edmund Cooper was an interesting character, Martin. I read a lot of science fiction as a teenager (though I've pretty much lost touch with the genre now) and in the 1970s Cooper was a fairly big name - not quite up there with the biggest UK names such as Arthur Clarke, J G Ballard, Michael Moorcock or Brian Aldiss, but not too far behind. He was born in Marple and lived around Stockport till he moved away in his 20s. He died in 1982 and now seems largely forgotten - perhaps because nothing ages quite like an old vision of the future? But there are certainly those who think he's unjustly neglected. As for crime fiction, my understanding is he wrote some under a pseudonym in his early days although it probably had little merit. I remember finding the science fiction interesting - I ought to dig it out and have another look.

Martin Edwards said...

It's interesting how many writers have switched between crime fiction and sci-fi. Most people don't associate, say, PD James or WJ Burley with writing sci-fi, but they both tried their hand at it. Just as John Sladek and the marvellous Fredric Brown, among many others, moved sometimes from sci-fi to crime.

maxine said...

If I have remembered the name correctly, Edmund Cooper wrote The Moving Toyshop, which I enjoyed a lot when a teenager. I think he wrote other crime novels also, and that EC was a pseudonym. I suppose I should go and look on Wikipedia, but that seems a bit boring. I prefer the mystery of not knowing, I think! And waiting until you write about him, Martin (if you do), which is bound to be better than reading Wikipedia.

Martin Edwards said...

Maxine, The Moving Toyshop, a nice impossible crime story, was written by Edmund Crispin. His real name was Bruce Montgomery and he wrote music for the Carry On films, amongst other things. I like the Fen short stories; there is a lovely one called 'Who Killed Baker?'