My entry in Patti Abbott’s Forgotten Books series this week has a melancholy flavour as far as I’m concerned. I’ve just received the latest issue of that wonderful magazine CADS, but my pleasure at delving into its varied contents was muted this time, because I learned from editor Geoff Bradley’s notes that Dick Stewart has died.
Dick Stewart published books and articles about crime as R.F.Stewart. One of his articles for CADS discussed the 50s novelist George Bellairs, and his archive at Manchester’s John Rylands Library; I found the article so fascinating that I visited the library and spent a fascinated afternoon reading Bellairs’ correspondence, and realising that writers of the past had much the same anxieties as those of the present, and probably those of the future.
All Dick Stewart’s writing was distinguished by a keen intelligence (he worked for many years at Manchester University), as well as laconic wit and a taste for the out-of-the-ordinary. My choice of Forgotten Book that does not deserve to be forgotten is And Always a Detective…, first published in 1980.
Sub-titled ‘Chapters on the History of Detective Fiction’, the book is a quirky and meandering survey of early detective fiction, that is as enjoyable to dip into randomly as it is to read from cover to cover. His knowledge of pre-Holmesian mysteries was very extensive, and generally he preferred Victorian fiction to present day mysteries. I notice that his book is one of the relatively few titles to appear in the select bibliography at the back of P.D.James’ recently published Talking About Detective Fiction – quite a compliment. Among many other things, I like the sentence in Dick’s bio note on the inside back cover: ‘He has one wife and six children, despite whom this book was written.’ In my mind, I can hear him saying it in that considered Scots accent of his.
I featured Dick Stewart in this blog in July last year – almost exactly a year to the day before his death. I’d called in at his home in south Manchester and bought some crime reference books from him – including one or two fascinating titles that I shall talk about in future posts. As usual, he and his wife Liz were most hospitable. I certainly didn’t imagine that I would never see him again, and I shall remember him with affection and respect.