Deadline, first published in 1971, introduced journalist Jim Larkin, who proceeded to appear in four more of Martin Russell's novels. Russell had long experience of journalism and makes good use of it in this novel, the most memorable element of which is the vividly conveyed background of a newspaper in an out-of-season seaside resort. .
Larkin's arrival in town coincides with the killing of a young woman, whose body has been decapitated. A second death swiftly follows, and this time the corpse is mutilated even more extensively. Evidently a psychopathic serial killer is on the loose, and Larkin and his colleagues find themselves working flat out as they try to keep up with what reporters nowadays love to describe as "a fast-moving story".
In my twenties, I went through a phase of reading Martin Russell novels, focusing on the stand-alones rather than those featuring Larkin. I was impressed by the twisty plots, which for me compensated for a dearth of characterisation. Russell was a writer who was wise enough to know his limitations, and for twenty years, from 1965 to 1984, he turned out pacy and entertaining mysteries.
My interest in Russell stood me in good stead when Reg Hill, who had written about Russell for the first two editions of Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers, was too busy to update his essay. I was asked to take over, and give Russell's work a fresh look. My views were much the same as Reg's. The plot of Deadline is much less ingenious than those of his best books, or indeed that of Francis Beeding's Death Walks in Eastrepps, another story about multiple murder in a seaside resort. but it's a light, easy read.
Russell was,in the late seventies and early eighties, a prominent figure in the CWA and he also became a member of the Detection Club, but has not had any direct involvement with either organisation for many years. I don't know why he gave up writing so abruptly, but it may be that he felt that his type of crime fiction had become deeply unfashionable, and lost heart. If my guess is correct, I find that rather sad. He may not have been Ruth Rendell, but who was? His books are, as Reg said, both unpretentious and enjoyable.