Friday, 27 February 2009

Forgotten Book - Death and Transfiguration

One of the reasons that Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books appeals to me is that it offers a chance not only to come up with ‘hidden gems’ of the genre, but also, quite often, with authors who have slipped off the radar but who do not deserve such a fate.

In that list, I’d include Stephen Murray, creator of DCI Alec Stainton, and author of, by my count, seven crime novels, of which the last to be published was Death and Transfiguration, which appeared in 1994. I’d hazard a guess that most readers of this blog are not familiar with Murray’s name, but when I started out in crime writing, he was already becoming established as one of the youngest and most promising writers whose work came out under the legendary imprint of Collins Crime Club. He is much the same age as me, but struck me as likely to be more of a high flier, and he’d taken the courageous step of giving up his day job as a surveyor to write full-time. I was never brave enough to do the same and give up the law, but I got to know Stephen and his family (the Muirray surname was a pseudonym), and we met quite often at events organised by the northern chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association.

All the Murray books are solid, literate, readable mysteries, and Stainton is a likeable fellow, if not someone to set the pulse racing too fast. Death and Transfiguration was, I felt at the time, Murray’s best book, not least because DS Liz Pink played a prominent role, and she was a character of great potential.

In this book, a philanderer called Crossland goes missing, having abandoned his car on Stainton’s turf. Meanwhile, a serial killer called the Carver is wreaking havoc. Suspicions grow that Crossland and the Carver are one and the same.

Regrettably, this was the last crime novel that Stephen Murray had published. The Crime Club imprint disappeared, and he seems to have found it difficult to stay in the game. I included a very good short story he wrote, ‘Landfall’, in a CWA anthology called Crime on the Move, in the hope this would attract publishers to his writing, but so far it doesn’t seem to have happened.

A pity. He is a good writer, and his books, in particular Death and Transfiguration, should not be forgotten. Fifteen years ago, he kindly inscribed my copy of the book ‘To another rising star’. I still hope that Stephen’s star will rise again in the crime firmament.


David Cranmer said...

Thanks for bringing Stephen Murray to our attention. The list of writers who slip into obscurity is staggering and sad. DEATH AND TRANSFIGURATION sounds like a great read.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I'll have to check and see if this series is available here. Some just never get across the water.