Thursday, 24 December 2015

Forgotten Book - Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper

In my last post before Christmas, I'd like to wish all readers of this blog a very happy and peaceful time over the festive season. Thanks for all your feedback; it's always good to hear from you, and I've learned a lot from people who have taken the trouble to get in touch. Today's blog is a case in point, as a correspondent has greatly increased my knowledge and understanding of a writer who has long intrigued me.

Donald Henderson died young in 1947, just three years after the publication of Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper. It's his most famous book, thanks to words of admiration from Raymond Chandler, which prompted me to search it out many moons ago. I re-read it recently, and for me, it has much the same darkness as Patrick Hamilton's better-known Hangover Square, but it's nevertheless distinctive. Sensibly, Henderson kept the book short - a greater contrast from Georgette Heyer's over-long Penhallow, discussed here yesterday, would be hard to imagine.

We know from the outset that William Bowling, public school educated and superficially charming, is a murderer. Henderson conveys with economy and skill a rather complex psychological profile, and we follow Bowling as he moves from one more or less motiveless crime to another. It makes for chilling and compelling reading. Very different from Chandler's style, but you can see why the great man was taken with it.

The title, seemingly innocuous, is rather creepy. Mr Bowling buys the newspapers only to find out what the latest is on the murder he's committed. He is skilled in getting away with murder without really trying. This is a dark and ironic book, and there are echoes of Francis Iles as well as of Hamilton. I don't claim that Henderson was as good a writer as that pair, but perhaps had he lived longer, he would have achieved a great deal more.

Henderson was an interesting chap, and I'm indebted to Paul T. Harding, who has researched his life over a good many years, and presented his archive to the University of Reading, for giving me fresh information about him, as well as the chance to read autobiographical material that has aided my understanding of him as a writer. Henderson's other major book is Goodbye to Murder, which was published in a Pan paperback edition, but his earlier crime novels, such as Murderer at Large, are very obscure. Both Paul and I hope to have more to say about Henderson in the future.


Richard R. said...

Happy Christmas, Martin, and many thanks for your blog and the work you put into it.

Roger Allen said...

In the film of Hangover Square George Harvey Bone is a would-be composer - did that idea come from Mr Bowling..., perhaps? As you say, the two books have very similar central characters.

Jerry House said...

Even though my wife disagrees with you sharply about Georgette Heyer, Martin, we both wish you a very happy Christmas!

Martin Edwards said...

Richard, thank you!
Roger - interesting question. I've now found a contemporary review which compares Hamilton to Henderson
Jerry - I'd be interested to know which Heyer books your wife recommends. I'm sure there's more to her writing than Penhallow suggests