Paul Temple and the Front Page Men is an early thriller in the famous series by Francis Durbridge. The story began life as a radio serial which was then novelised by Durbridge It's an apprentice work, and although Durbridge never became a rival to Graham Greene as a prose stylist, his later stories naturally tend to display greater craftsmanship. But the tale is a very lively one, and it's easy to understand why pre-war audiences lapped up such unpretentious entertainment. Having heard the BBC audio version, I was delighted to come across a new reprint, part of a series being produced by Harper Collins.
A crime novel called The Front Page Men has become a great success, but there is a mystery about its pseudonymous author - who has somehow managed to keep his or her real identity secret. Something very strange happens when a crime wave - initially a series of robberies, but then kidnapping, and eventually murder - takes place. The culprits leave a calling card marked 'The Front Page Men'.
There are several plot devices of the kind that became Dubridge's hallmark. For instance, a seemingly innocuous piano tuner keeps turning up in circumstances which suggest he may be connected to the gang's activities. Might he, just possibly, be the mastermind behind the crimes? Paul Temple and his devoted wife Steve are, needless to say, the people to find out.
One of the attractions of this series of reprints is that it is allowing readers an opportunity to see how Durbridge developed as a writer. Here, there are several of his customary cliffhangers, but the connection between the calling cards and the novel was, to my mind, pretty thin. Later, with the benefit of experience, he became more adept at making the interconnections between his numerous and essentially unlikely plot strands seem substantial, as well as plausible. But this is a fun book, great escapist reading for the Christmas season.