Thursday 10 December 2009

Desmond Bagley

One of my must-read blogs is Petrona’s, and a typically interesting post a while back reminded me of a thriller writer who was a huge star in the 1970s, and who is not remembered often enough today. As a teenager, I was a fan for years of Alistair MacLean, until his later books began to seem very samey, and then I read a few by Desmond Bagley, before concentrating my attention on whodunits.

Bagley was, arguably, second only to MacLean among British thriller writers of the time. My late father was very keen on Bagley’s books, and encouraged me to read him. I agreed with his verdict that Running Blind was an excellent story, benefiting from a well-realised setting in Iceland. (Dad also tried to persuade me to take an interest in Wilbur Smith, but his books never appealed to me in the way that Bagley’s did.)

Bagley died at the age of 59, and a highly successful career came to a sad and premature end. Some time after that, I met his widow Joan at a CWA conference in Tunbridge Wells. Joan was a very pleasant woman, and she was a close friend of a friend of mine, Eileen Dewhurst. Eileen stayed with Joan several times at her home in Guernsey, and one of these trips inspired her to write an excellent Guernsey-based novel, Death in Candie Gardens.

I was rather baffled at one point in the conversation, when Joan started talking about someone called Simon. It turned out that this was Desmond Bagley’s real name. But I never asked why he adopted a pseudonym. Sadly, Joan died about a decade ago, but I have discovered that there is a very good website about her husband’s books which pays proper tribute to them both:


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I don't think I've read any of Bagley's books. I'll have to check out "Running Blind."

Elizabeth Mystery Writing is Murder

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Martin, for that website. I remember reading MacLean, and I think I might have read a Bagley, but unfortunately, I can't remember. I'm going to have to look at some of his synopses. It is sad that he died as young as he did.

C. N. Nevets said...

Great homage to one of my favorites in the genre. Thanks for posting this tribute!

mybillcrider said...

I read several of Bagley's novels and enjoyed them quite a bit. One of them was made into a movie with Paul Newman, as I recall.

And as an aside congrats on the great review in the latest issue of EQMM.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Martin! I loved both of them. MacLean always, but I read most of Bagley's too, before moving on somewhere. There is one I still remember very well, except the title, and I often think of it. The main character ends up with plastic surgery to look like the villain, and falls in love with villain's daughter.

Maxine Clarke said...

Thank you for the generous mention, Martin. I just read a post at Killer Reads about how Desmond Bagley's novels are being reissued in two-for-one editions. See

I loved reading Alistair MacLean as a young teenager. I remember reading at least one of his books through to the early hours of the morning with a torch under the blankets as I was so scared I had to finish it! It was about a group of people travelling across some arctic-like snowy wastes, and unaccountable acts of sabotage were going on -- scary! I wonder what I'd think if I read it now?

Martin Edwards said...

I'm delighted to see that mentioning these two writers interested such good judges!
Bill, am I right in thinking that film was The Mackintosh Man?
Bookwitch, from memory, that one was The Tightrope Men - great opening scene!
Maxine, I just read the wikipedia entry on Maclean, which interestingly and plausibly divides his novels into four groups.

FionaB said...

I just have to join in! Running Blind is the only Bagley I remember reading; Maxine, I think your remembered MacLean is Where Eagles Dare.

Nigel said...

Hi Martin. Great to stumble across your Blogger pages and this piece about DB. I own and run the desmondbagley website you so kindly mentioned.

I'm glad too that your own work, set in the same general area that Bagley was brought up, is being widely praised. I confess I haven't read any of your titles yet but I'll certainly go a-searching now! :-)

Yes, Joan Bagley was a very kind lady and was so very helpful when I began research for the web-site in 1994. When I visited Guernsey I was also lucky enough to find Death in Candie Gardens in hard-back and bought it. Joan passed on my regards to Eileen Dewhurst.

It's good to discover people are remembering - and still appreciating - Bagley.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Nigel. You will be pleased to know DB was one of the authors discussed on a panel that I moderated at Crimefest today!

Nigel said...

Ah! Sounds interesting! If there is anything you are able to pass on to me concerning those discussions, I'd be glad to hear :-)) (email address on the site etc)

Agni Singh said...

Hi Martin

It is good to know that Desmond Bagley is still rememebred by atleast some of his countrymen.

I read my first book by Desmond Bagley around 1995 (Windfall) and have by now read all his books that I could get my hands on. His books are not readily available in the book stores in this part of the world (India. I used to search in the used book marts and was fortunate to find a few of his books there. Recently I "bumped into" Wyatt's Hurricane and that made me check him out online and have ordered all the unread ones from Amazon.

David said...

Yes, the great writers were Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, Hammond Innes, and the likes. All, sadly, gone the way to dusty death.