This is a little "classic" Friday's Forgotten Books for you.
Scottish author Margot Bennett was born in 1912 and worked first first as a copywriter in the UK and Australia and then as a nurse during the Spanish Civil War before turning to writing. Her output in crime fiction was relatively small, yet successful: The Man Who Didn't Fly was shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger and was runner-up to Charlotte Armstrong's A Dram of Poison for Best Novel at the Edgars in 1956, and she won the Gold Dagger two years later in 1958 with Someone from the Past. She was also chosen to contribute a short story to the second CWA anthology, Choice Of Weapons, edited by Michael Gilbert.
But thereafter, a bit of mystery regarding Bennett herself began. She essentially stopped writing crime fiction, something discussed by Martin Edwards both on his blog and in the foreword he wrote for the Black Dagger Crime Series edition of The Man Who Didn't Fly. Bennett only wrote for television for awhile—including the early 60s UK adaptation of the Maigret novels by Simenon—with the exception of two non-mystery books (one of which had the intriguing title The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Atomic Radiation), before abandoning writing altogether in 1966. She died in 1980 at the age of 68.
In The Man Who Didn't Fly, four men are scheduled to take an ill-fated chartered flight to Dublin that crashes into the Irish Channel. Although the bodies can't be recovered, it becomes evident that only three men were on board the plane, yet all four are reported as missing. Inspector Lewis and Sergeant Young have their work count out for them trying to coax clues out of unreliable witnesses including the Wade family, Charles and his daughters Hester and Prudence.
The lives of the Wades intersected with all four of the missing men: Harry Walters, a desperate poet, who was in love with Hester Wade; Joseph Ferguson, a businessman who wife was more interested in Harry; Morgan Price, a nervous guest of the Wades; and Maurice Reid, something of a family friend. Slowly but surely, Lewis and Young piece together the details of the days leading up to the flight, finally uncovering the name of the missing man. But that just sets up a new problem: what happened to him and why?
Bennett's artful plotting was enough to capture the attention of the producers of NBC's Kraft Television Theater who created an episode in 1958 based on The Man Who Didn't Fly starring then 27-year-old William Shatner, Jonathan Harris (Dr. Smith of Lost in Space) and Walter Brooke (guest star in just about all TV series in the 60s, 70s, and 80s). The book was also chosen by Julian Symons as part of his 1958 "100 Best Crime Stories" for the London Sunday Times.