Friday, 17 July 2009

Forgotten Book - The Nursemaid who Disappeared


Philip Macdonald is a crime writer whose career spanned from the Golden Age to the post-war era, from 1920s London to Hollywood. He wrote some remarkable, if often slapdash, mysteries, and his gift for plot and suspense can be seen in his work on the brilliant screenplays for Rebecca and Forbidden Planet.

I could choose any one of a dozen Macdonald titles for my latest entry in Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books, but today I’ve opted for The Nursemaid who Disappeared – also known as Warrant for X.

Sheldon Garrett overhears two people in a teashop, apparently planning a serious crime. Scotland Yard are not interested, so he approached Macdonald’s regular amateur sleuth, Anthony Gethryn, who uncovers a dastardly kidnapping plot.

It’s a lively thriller, rather than a conventional whodunit like the early Gethryns. The story was rather well filmed in 1956 (with Van Johnson as a blind protagonist) as 23 Paces to Baker Street. The movie had a much-changed story – and no Gethryn. Oddly, the screenplay was not written by Macdonald but by the even more accomplished Nigel Balchin. Balchin was a writer so fascinating that he deserves a post to himself one day. Maybe more than one.

12 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

I would never have expected PM to disappear. Just goes to show you, so few are beyond it.

Anonymous said...

Van Johnson not Van Heflin.

Martin Edwards said...

Many thanks, Anon. You are quite right. Correction made!

ARCHAVIST said...

This is one I've never heard of. Sounds interesting, though.

vegetableduck said...

Or maybe Van Halen?

I liked "Nursemaid." I'd put that in the upper tier, along with Warrant for X and Rynox (this latter tale you hear less about, though Julian Symons liked ir).

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, I quite liked Rynox, though I prefer books like X v Rex. Almost all of Macdonald's books had some genuinely fascinating aspect, Arcavist, though he was uneven. I will dig out more of his best stuff for future Fridays.

vegetableduck said...

I tend to find a lot of his stuff too breathless and action-oriented (i.e., American ;) ) for my taste, but I think Nursemaid and Murder Gone Mad succeed splendidly at what they are. For pure detection I thought The Maze was rather good. That's the one based entirely on courtroom documents as I recall. For me The Rasp is too much of a twenties period piece. And The White Crow has a notable collection of qualities people dislike about Golden Age detective fiction (racism, etc.).

I'm not surprised Macdonald went to the States to work on screenplays, a lot of books seem written with film treatment in mind! Several of them were made into films in the thirties, I believe. And his much later List of Adrian Messenger was filmed as well. Though I guess none of the films are very well-regarded?

Martin Edwards said...

I think Adrian Messenger is, or was, quite well regarded. But 23 Paces to Baker Street is better, in my opinion. I haven't seen the other films.

monescu said...

By the way, "The Nursemaid Who Disappeared" also received an earlier film adaptation in England, under the original ("Nursemaid") title. Made in 1939, it was much more faithful to the novel than was the later "23 Paces to Baker Street," and is still extant (or at least was about 11 years ago, when I hand cranked a copy of it on a editing/self viewing machine at the British Film Institute).

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for that, Monescu. I would love to see the film, and indeed the other early movies based on Macdonald's books. He definitely does not deserve to be forgotten.

Christine said...

I love Phillip MacDonald, and have only a short handful of his novels. And Warrant for X is one of my all time favorites!

Thanks for this!

Martin Edwards said...

Good to hear from you, Christine. More about PM before long.