Something a little different today - the story of a forgotten writer, rather than a forgotten book. It's a story that came to me through the unlikeliest of routes. When I took part in the recent Liverpool University conference on James Ellroy, and spoke about The Golden Age of Murder, I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Routledge.
Chris told me about a writer I was unfamiliar with - even though I have a copy of the Barzun and Taylor book (see below) which features one of his novels. I was so intrigued by the story that I asked Chris to tell me more, and I'm delighted that he's happy to share the tale with readers of this blog. Over to Chris....
"In the mid-twentieth century writing detective fiction had too much of a whiff of the lowbrow for many academics to admit to doing it, and yet many of them did, under assumed names. Michael Innes, pseudonym of J.I.M. Stewart is probably the best known. In what turned out to be the final few years of his life, I worked with my father in law to digitise some of the detective novels he wrote as a young academic in the early 1960s. Aiming to keep his academic publishing separate from his fiction, he used a pseudonym made from the surnames of his grandmothers: Simon Nash.
The Reverend Professor Raymond Chapman went on to have a successful academic career teaching English literature at the University of London, and continued in his parallel role as a non-stipendiary Anglican priest into a long and fruitful retirement. But in his 30s and early 40s, as Simon Nash, he wrote five detective novels based around his favourite subjects: the life of the university lecturer, English drama, and the day to day workings of parish churches.
Adam Ludlow, Nash’s series detective, is in many ways an idealised self-portrait of Raymond himself: he is a well-read lecturer in English literature, with a passion for Shakespeare, and a habit of coming up with an appropriate quotation for any given situation. Ludlow’s skill as a literary critic turns out to be unexpectedly ‘useful’ in reading clues and understanding character traits and motives. His gentle, but at times rather wicked, sense of humour is played off against the police inspector, Montero.
As is often the case in detective stories, the police in these novels are bound by protocol and thus doomed to appear dull operatives alongside the amateur detective’s imagination and flair. The pairing of Ludlow and Montero owes much to the precedent set by Holmes and Lestrade: despite their differences, Montero’s willingness to accept Ludlow’s superior intellect makes it possible for them to get along. But unlike Holmes, Adam Ludlow is no exceptional polymath. While his own ‘special knowledge’ enables him to solve these particular mysteries, he respects Montero’s expertise as a professional detective and accepts that he too is an educated man.
The first Adam Ludlow novel, Dead of a Counterplot (1962), was written for a competition run by the publisher Collins. It did’t win, but it was taken on by Geoffrey Bles and published in 1962. Four more Ludlow stories (Killed By Scandal (1962), Death over Deep Water (1964), Dead Woman’s Ditch (1964) and Unhallowed Murder (1966)) followed, before the combined forces of a young family and a developing academic career put a stop to Raymond’s novel writing. In truth Ludlow had probably run his course by then; by the mid-1960s the fashion for academic-as-detective stories was also on the wane.
Of the five novels Raymond wrote in his short career as Simon Nash, Killed by Scandal, a tale of murder in a suburban amateur dramatics society, was the most celebrated. It was among the ninety crime and detective novels named by Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor in their influential 1971 Catalogue of Crime, and was republished by Garland in 1983 as part of their series ‘Fifty Classics of Crime Fiction 1960-75’. All five novels were republished in the United States by Harper Row in 1985.
Raymond was delighted to be able to revive the Simon Nash novels and helped out in reading the digitised proofs to spot errors made by the OCR software and compounded by me. Sadly he died, aged 89, in November 2013, before we could go any further than the first two novels. I hope in time to complete the project and make all five Simon Nash novels available again."
This is the sort of project I love to hear about, and I'm very much looking forward to reading my first Simon Nash. Thanks, Chris.