Friday, 1 May 2009

Forgotten Book - 29 Herriott Street


My latest entry in Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books is a novel first published in 1983, John Hutton’s 29 Herriott Street. I read this, and Hutton’s other book, Accidental Crimes, not long after they first came out in paperback and I was greatly impressed. All the more amazing, therefore, that he did not go on to enjoy a long and distinguished career as a crime novelist.

29 Herriott Street takes some of its basic facts from that classic Liverpool murder story from the 30s, the Wallace case. Hutton, a Mancunian by birth, transplants the crime to his native city and develops the story in a fascinating, though fictional way. Forty years after the savage woman at Number 29, a writer called Winnick re-opens the case and uncovers (you guessed it!) dark and hideous secrets.

The reviews of this book were outstanding. No less a figure than A.S. Byatt admired it, and I share her enthusiasm for the ‘plain English skill of the telling.’ Hutton was a formidable talent. Accidental Crimes is equally good. Hutton is still alive, I believe, and in his 80s. He has lived in North Wales for years, and his career was devoted to education. He has long been a member of the CWA, but I’ve never met him – or even heard anyone mention his name - baffling. But he deserves to be recognised as a man who can write powerfully and engagingly. This book alone is proof of that.

6 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Perhaps a bit like Harper Lee. Thanks, Martin.

Martin Edwards said...

It's a real puzzle to me that he is so utterly overlooked.

Anonymous said...

I bought and read the hardback edition of 29 Herriot Street. Although I admired the book for being well- written and several steps above a run-of-the-mill crime story, I thought it failed because the characters were simply not interesting enough for me to particularly care about them: they engendered no horror, no awe, no admiration. Not only did it fail in this sense, but in terms of interesting insights beyond the ordinary in terms of psychology or philosophy. This was not Dostoevsky. Nor was it,sadly, even Ruth Rendell. In other words it had neither sufficient entertainment value nor instructional merit to garner an audience. I knew John at the time, and respected him greatly, and certainly hoped that his career would take off and was disappointed when it didn't.

Martin Edwards said...

Interesting, thanks. Please can you tell me more about him? As I say, he seems to be astonishingly little known.

Anonymous said...

John was a lecturer in English at College of Education, teaching English Literature to trainee teachers. He was of that generation that still believed in the Orwellian mission to preserve the languagem, and the Leavisite dictum that English Literature was one of the last weapons that civilization had. Recall the portrait of George Orwell that Penguin used and you have John Hutton in appearance.

Ceri Hutton said...

I've found this site because I am trying to buy a few more copies of John Hutton's books. John is my uncle, and it's interesting to see people's takes on him as a man. Personally I reread 29 Herriott Street recently and thought it was a rattling good read which held my attention and imagination throughout. Not Dostoevsky, no. That's true. Not sure where it gets us, but it's true.