Friday, 6 June 2014

Forgotten Book - Dictator's Way

Thanks to the sterling efforts of Ramble House, a very likeable publisher indeed, a few of E.R. Punshon's long-forgotten books have become available again to modern readers. Dictator's Way, first published in 1938, is among them, and it is notable above all for the insight it gives into the issues preoccupying thinking men and women like Punshon at the time - the grim state of international affairs and the threat posed by totalitarian dictators.

This is an entry in the Bobby Owen series, and another reason why Dictator's Way is of note is that it introduces Olive, a resourceful young woman who was to become the love of Bobby's life. The path of true love does  not run smooth at first, but it seems to me that Punshon, like Margery Allingham, Nicholas Blake, Ngaio Marsh and others was following the lead set by Dorothy L. Sayers in having a youngish male detective meet, during the course of his cases, the woman whom he would marry. In each case they are strong women, not content to sit on the sidelines of life, and this helps the reader to appreciate them.

Punshon had liberal/leftish political views, and takes the opportunity to show his contempt for Hitler, Mussolini and Oswald Mosley in the course of a story dealing scathingly with the so-called "Redeemer" of Etruria. This political perspective gives the book spice, and also gives the lie to the often repeated but false claim that Golden Age writers were just a bunch of cosy reactionaries. Why have so many otherwise sensible people made such a claim? I suspect it's because, for the most part, the really successful Golden Age writers were conservative in outlook, although I'd describe some of them at least as questioning conservatives.

Anyway, on to the book. It contains thrillerish elements and a loveable working class rogue whom I found rather irritating. The whodunit element of the story isn't especially memorable. You can see why Punshon fell into neglect - but you can also see why good judges found something to admire in his work. It's often a mixed bag, but his thoughtfulness makes him a Golden Age writer about whom I'd like to know much more. But my knowledge of his life doesn't extend far beyond what's to be found on the internet. I don't suggest he's a superstar, but I do think he deserves to be remembered.  Ramble House are doing a great job in bringing some of his books back to life.


Graham Powell said...

I'm pretty sure you didn't mean "the love of Bobby's wife", though I would certainly read that story!

Trivia: Ramble House used to be located in Shreveport, Louisiana - my hometown - and for 5 years I lived only a few blocks from the Ramble House house.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Graham - oops, duly corrected! I'm a big fan of RH's books, which include several previously hidden gems.