Oswald Wynd (1913-1998) was born in Japan, the son of a Baptist missionary from Scotland. Wynd's family moved to the U.S. in the 1930s, where Wynd attended High School in Atlantic City, then later back to Scotland. Wynd's studies at Edinburgh University were interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, and in 1941 Wynd's unit in Malaysia was attacked and Wynd imprisoned in Hokkaido mines.
Upon the end of the War and Wynd's liberation as a POW, he returned to the U.S. and on a whim decided to enter a "first novel" contest by publisher Doubleday in 1947. The novel, Black Fountains, about a young American-educated Japanese caught up in the war, won first prize. Another novel, The Ginger Tree, was turned into a television series by the BBC, with NHK, Japan and WGBH Boston.
But it was under the pen name of Gavin Black that Wynd wrote his thrillers, fifteen in all, most featuring Paul Harris, a young man with a Scottish background making a living as an unconventional businessman in Asian countries like Singapore and Malaysia. The first, Suddenly At Singapore, was published in 1960, and the last, Night Run From Java, in 1979. A Time For Pirates lies right in the middle of the series.
Set in Kuala Lumpur, A Time for Pirates finds Paul Harris rescuing damsel in distress Jean Hyde from a rioting mob. Unfortunately for Harris, the beautiful blonde damsel is the wife of a geologist looking for oil on behalf of a Chinese company Min Kow Lin, and Harris has been fighting to save Malaysia from Communism. He decides to delve into the oil business to try and find out why Min Kow Lin is disguising its oil exploration as prospecting for less valuable minerals and why it's buying a rubber plantation.
With the assistance of his "humor challenged" Sikh bookeeper Bahadur, Harris investigates whether the nasty business he's stumbled onto is really a Communist plot or a capitalist scheme to deny poor Malaysians the rights and profits from the oil. After two kidnap attempts, a near-fatal fight with a Manchu thug, and an arson attack that burns down his house, Harris begins to suspect that the man who wants him dead isn't an outsider, but a friend.
The Independent said of Black that he wrote "superior and literate thrillers - school of Stevenson and Buchan - which were at the same time witty and clever, and moved at a by no means gentlemanly pace." The intriguing characters and details of the exotic setting of newly-independent but unstable Malaysia and the clashes between the native population, Communists and Western enterpreneurs are well drawn and the writing is descriptive, as in this one passage:
It was a long time since I had walked up my drive. The gradient is steep, an asphalt razor cut on a slope packed with jungle hardwoods...snakes which reach my antiseptic woods are there isn't a stagnant pool anywhere in which mosquitoes can breed. Sometimes monkeys come on excursions from the adjacent public gardens to try out the long drops from high branches, but they never seem to stay long, as though the surrounding intense hygiene is too much for them. I wish they would set up a colony near me; I like them, they are a continuing and salutary rebuke to our pretensions.
Black Dagger Crime reprinted A Time for Pirates in 1971, and a Fontana First Thus edition came out in May 1973, but they're hard to find. However, Langtail Press Limited, with a mission to bring back crime and mystery novels that have been out of print or unavailable, made new print and eBook versions of Black's novel in December 2010.