I was very sorry to learn earlier today, via our mutual friend Kate Charles, that Margaret Yorke, one of Britain's most distinguished crime novelists, has died at the age of 88. I'd learned a short time ago from Margaret's family that she was very unwell, news that came as a great shock, given that she was sending me cheery emails as recently as a couple of months ago. I shall miss her greatly.
I've mentioned Margaret numerous times on this blog, and regular readers will therefore know that I was a great fan of her work. I started reading her in the late 1970s, and among my favourites of her books were Devil's Work and No Medals for the Major. The latter marked a change of direction in her writing. She'd begun with romantic fiction, and then wrote light detective novels with Patrick Grant as her sleuth. But her greatest achievements came with stand-alone novels of psychological suspense. She excelled at studies of domestic tension, spilling over into violence, and her characterisation showed profound insight into human nature.
Much later, after I became a published writer, I met Margaret occasionally, not only at the St Hilda's Crime Week-end, which Kate organises, but also when she received the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger to mark her outstanding and sustained achievements as a crime writer. This was a memorable occasion, at the House of Lords, and made such an impression on me that it later gave me the opening scene for Take My Breath Away.
Margaret also contributed a couple of stories to anthologies that I edited, but I came to know her much better in the last few years. The catalyst for this was my research into the provenance of a pastiche of Golden Age detective fiction, Gory Knight, by Margaret Rivers Larminie and Jane Langslow. To cut a long story short, both writers were related to Margaret, and she became as fascinated as I was by trying to fathom how they'd come to write the book and by trying to prove Jane Langslow's real identity. The result was an article published in CADS to which Margaret made a massive conribution.
After that, she offered me much help and advice as regards my continuing researches into the history of detective fiction, and one of her last emails, which arrived out of the blue, was a kind note congratulating me on my foreword to the reprint of Ask a Policeman. I was fortunate to be invited to visit her at her lovely cottage in Buckinghamshire a couple of times, when she made excellent lunches, as well as providing stimulating and convivial company. Age had not dimmed her at all, it seemed to me; she was a truly perceptive woman, with a terrific fund of anecdotes. I am sad to think that there will be no more of those conversations.
Margaret was a strong character, with strong opinions, which she was never afraid to express (she recalled, for instance, once coming to "verbal blows" with that talented writer Michael Dibdin in a radio broadcast, when he made some rather ill-judged criticisms of Agatha Christie, of whom Margaret was a big fan). I found her unflinching honesty wholly admirable, whether or not I agreed with her opinions, (in fact, as with the Mike Dibdin debate, generally I did agree). There were many examples of her kindness and generosity, and it's also worth adding that she did all writers a service with the work she put in to the campaign to secure Public Lending Right.
To lose someone, whatever their age, is hard to take, but Margaret's family and friends will all know that she, and her books, will long be remembered, not only with admiration, but with great affection and appreciation. I am so glad I had the chance to get to know her.