Thursday 16 April 2009

The ABC Files

I shall keep you in suspense no longer! The answer to my quiz question yesterday was A.B.Cox, alias Anthony Berkeley, alias Francis Iles. It was the publication of his masterpiece, Malice Aforethought, under the Iles name, that provoked such interest in his identity. Anthony Berkeley Cox had already established a reputation under the name Anthony Berkeley as an accomplished writer of detective fiction. (He also wrote one exceptionally difficult to find novel as A. Monmouth Platts.)

Malice Aforethought is a genuine classic, even if the twist ending was anticipated by C.S. Forester in Payment Deferred. I am fascinated by the range of names suggested as the author of the book, and I was pleased that so many of you had a go at answering my question. Thanks again.

The first two Berkeley books were originally published anonymously, and he was a man who guarded his privacy jealously. He was not unsociable, and co-founded the Detection Club, but he gave up writing crime novels with the advent of the Second World War, retaining the Iles name for his incisive crime reviewing.

I obtained the details of the speculation about the identity of Francis Iles from a book I acquired last week from a London book-dealer, George Locke. The Anthony Berkeley Cox Files: notes towards a bibliography is the work of ‘Ayresome Johns’ – but that is itself a pseudonym, for George himself.

George’s book first appeared in 1993. It was an edition limited to 300 copies, and a unique feature was that each had, tipped in, an original typed manuscript by Cox. George’s idea was to ensure that each purchaser had the chance to own ‘the original typescript of an A.B.Cox short story, article or other piece of writing’ and this seems to me to be a very pleasing feature. The manuscript in my copy is of a light-hearted little piece, ‘Our Fire’.Cox-Berkeley-Iles is a writer I’ve long admired and it’s fascinating to encounter one of his original typescripts.


Philip Amos said...

What I should really like to know is the identity of the bright sparks who thought the writers on that list might have written Malice Aforethought. Patrick Hamilton, Robert (Smythe) Hichens and Eden Philpotts I can understand, but the rest...good grief. I'm curious about the two names unknown to me. I can't find any reference to Anthony Rolls, but I'm especially intrigued by this Bernadette Croce, whom I also can't find. I have to wonder, for I've seen this error a couple of times elsewhere, if the source of this meant Benedetto Croce. It seems outlandish that anyone could think that fine Italian philosopher had suddenly taken up the writing of English crime fiction, but some of the others on the list are not so much less peculiar.

Martin Edwards said...

Good question, and I'll give more info in due course about the speculation.
Anthony Rolls is a writer who was really a disciple of Iles - real name C.E. Vulliamy. There's some discussion about the Iles school in my website article on the irony of murder.
Croce - like you, I'm completely unfamiliar with this writer.

Jilly said...

I hadn't realised Francis Iles wrote under any other name!
Like Philip I was interested in the name of Bernadette Croce though I had heard of Anthony Rolls.

David Cranmer said...

Interesting history.