Tell most authors they must write 10,000 words a day — in longhand —toward the goal of creating some 600 books in their lifetime, and they would likely say something along the lines of (in polite terms), "it can't be done." Tell most critics that the author of the book in your hand is indeed that prolific and they'd likely say (in polite terms), "then it must be crap."
John Creasey inspired such amazement and skepticism from other authors as well as critics, but when it came down to the readers, they voted with their wallets. By the time of Creasey's death in 1973, over 80 million copies of his books (written under 28 different pseydonyms) in 5,000 different editions in 28 languages had been sold around the world. It wasn't even as if the man sat chained to a desk all day — he also managed to establish the Crime Writers’ Association, create his very own mystery magazine, and still had time left over to found a political party in his native England. (One note about persistence: Creasey allegedly received 743 rejection slips before he sold his first book.)
When I was a child, I was introduced to Creasey's work through his series featuring The Honourable Richard Rollison (a/k/a The Toff), a nobleman and amateur crime solver aided by his manservant, Jolly. Creasey's most critically-acclaimed work, however, came via his police procedurals with protagonist Commander George Gideon of London's Scotland Yard, penned under the name J. J. Marric, which inspired a TV series and movie. According to an apocryphal story, one of Creasey's neighbors, a London police inspector, challenged the author with the words "Why don't you show us as we are?" and the next year Cresey published his first Inspector West police procedural book (the first of forty such novels), the success of which led to Gideon in the 1950s.
In 1955, writing for the New York Times Book Review, Anthony Boucher thought Creasey/Marric's Gideon's Day was the author's best book ever, saying,
''Nobody could make a regular career of presenting in some 75,000 words a half dozen or more plots, plus a technical study of Scotland Yard procedure, plus a realistic analysis of the characters of policemen and criminals. However, the incredible Mr. Creasey has calmly gone on presenting us with a Gideon novel each year, all of high quality."
Likewise, H. R. F. Keating, the crime books reviewer for the London Times for 15 years, chose Gideon's Week as one of his "100 Best Crime and Mystery Books [from 1845 to 1986]."
The book which finally won Creasey the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, however, was Gideon's Fire, in 1962. George Gideon, Commander of the C.I.D., is met at the office one morning with the beginnings of a very bad day: the news of a sex maniac who raped and murdered a 14-year-old girl, and an arson fire in an old tenement building which wiped out a family of seven. In a style which has since become commonplace for police procedurals, Creasey weaves these and other autonomous story lines throughout the book, including a case of stock fraud; a man who is suspected of killing two former mistresses; a bank robbery with the mastermind still at large, and an ugly family crisis building up in Gideon's own home, managing to tie up all plots by the end.
The book also exhibits the authentic earthy police procedural style Creasey used in this particular series, as well as his sympathetic treatment of many of his characters, culminating in the man Gideon, who feels a oneness with his city, London, and an abiding empathy with crime victims. Creasey once said,
"My characters live in my mind...I can see them and hear them much more clearly than most people whom I know in life...it never occurs to me that they don't exist."
For more Forgotten Books Friday, check out bookmeister Patti Abbott's site.