Sunday, 23 June 2013

Harry Keating

The first book  about crime fiction that I read was Bloody Murder, by Julian Symons. It remains a classic commentary on the genre. I also much enjoyed Symons novels, and before long I tried another novelist of distinction who doubled as a crime critic, H.R.F. Keating. I didn't know it at the time, but Symons and Keating were very good friends. And I certainly didn't know that eventually, I would meet both men, and find them as pleasant in person as they were incisive in print.

I got to know Harry Keating rather better than Julian Symons, and I also met Sheila Mitchell, an actor who was Harry's wife. Harry, Sheila and I spent some time together at Malice Domestic in Washington D.C. when Harry was guest of honour, and they were kind enough to invite me to join them at their table for the main banquet. Later we met from time to time at the Detection Club. Harry's death was a great loss to family and friends, to the Club, of which he was a former President, and to the genre as a whole..

Sheila, I'm glad to say, is remarkably fit and active and recently I had the privilege of staying at her home when in London to attend a Detection Club dinner. She showed me the early chapters of a biography of Harry which she has more or less completed, and which I very much hope will attract a major publisher. I learned a great deal from her about Harry's early career. Sitting in the study where Harry wrote so many notable books - two of the CWA Gold Daggers was a genuine thrill. So too was a taxi trip through the city that evening, in the company of Sheila and her friend P.D. James, with whom I had a fascinating conversation over dinner. Truly memorable.

I'm glad to say that most of Harry's books remain readily available, no mean feat given that he was prolific. It's a reminder of his enduring popularity. There is, by the way, a special deal on his novel A Long Walk to Wimbledon on Amazon tomorrow. An excellent chance for you to catch up with an intriguingly different book from one of the major figures of the genre in Britain during the past fifty years. And if you want to know a bit more about the man and his work, there's an essay I wrote about him on the articles page of my website.


TracyK said...

I have just purchased (in May) a used copy of Whodunit edited by Keating. And have read through his introduction and several of the articles. I have The Hundred Best Books also. But I don't think I have read any of his fiction; I will have to remedy that. Thanks for this reminder and the article on Keating.

Doug Greene said...

Harry was a dear friend. Some 7 or 8 years ago, Sheila asked us (Crippen & Landru) to publish a collection of stories in recognition of Harry's 80th birthday. Even though the Detection Club had published a book a year or 2 earlier ("The Detection Collection") Simon Brett agreed that it should sponsor this one as well. Peter Lovesey edited it. The title is "The Verdict of Us All." In order to present Harry with copies at a Detection Club gathering, Sheila and Simon and I pulled a scam. I came over to London and stayed with Sheila and Harry -- we told the latter that I was scouting out places to take university students, and that I was to give a talk to the Detection Club about its history. I gave said talk (on Guy Fawkes' Day), and gracefully transitioned into praise for Harry and presentation to him of the first copy. He was gobsmacked. That evening, he gave me a copy of his latest book, and inscribed it with a note that I had set off a bomb underneath him equivalent to Fawkes' plans.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks Tracy, I think you'll find his work quirky but very worthwhile.
Doug, it must have been a truly memorable occasion. Wish I'd been there.