"It’s good to see the Patrick Quentin/Q. Patrick/Jonathan Stagge team receiving more attention. On the whole, it seems to be the earlier, more Golden Age books that are being read and reviewed, but for my money it’s the later Patrick Quentins - the ones written solely by Hugh Wheeler - that are really something special. The earlier books tend to be more fanciful, less plausible; the later ones marry the most wonderfully skilful plotting with a greater realism.
The shift from the earlier to the later style is clearly shown in one of the last of the Hugh Wheeler - Richard Webb collaborations, Jonathan Stagge’s The Three Fears (1949). The feud which runs throughout the book between the two leading actresses, Daphne Winters and Lucy Milliken, is described with a good deal of sophisticated wit and almost amounts to a comedy of manners (the theme of the diva would be taken up again in Wheeler’s Suspicious Circumstances), but the idea that someone as tough as the ‘Divine Daphne’ would be haunted by ‘three fears’ - of death by poison, claustrophobia and fire - just doesn’t make sense, it belongs to an altogether more quirky, melodramatic way of writing, as does the casual, rather cynical handling of the murder of one of Daphne’s acolytes. In other words, the book suffers by falling between two stools.
Patrick Quentin’s The Follower from the following year (1950) is a much better book and paves the way for Hugh Wheeler’s solo efforts, written after Richard Webb had dropped out of the partnership. Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me if The Follower wasn’t a Wheeler-only book: we see here the same ability to reveal character through dialogue and the same interest in the protagonist’s emotional life that we find in the later volumes, almost all of which have in common the fact that there is an emotional problem as well as a murder mystery to be solved. Where it differs from Fatal Woman, The Man with Two Wives, and the rest of them, is that it is a thriller rather than a whodunit.
The set-up is especially good. Mark Liddon, a young, just-married engineer, returns to New York from a spell of work in Venezuela in order to be back with his wife Ellie in time for Christmas. But ditzy, poor-little-rich-girl Ellie isn’t there. Instead, Mark finds the dead body of one of her former admirers, shot through the heart. He doesn’t know how it happened but his one inclination is to find and protect his wife, so he hides the body and manages, by a clever piece of detective work, to get a lead as to where she might have gone. The action now shifts to Mexico - as with two slightly earlier Quentins, Puzzle for Pilgrims and Run to Death. Mark learns that his wife has bought a ticket for a bullfight - yet when he gets to the stadium, the woman who shows up using his wife’s name isn’t Ellie at all but a complete stranger. Having just read Helen McCloy’s The Impostor, I can report that the imposture theme is handled in a much more interesting, suspenseful way by Quentin here. Mark does find Ellie, only to lose her again…until the denouement, when everything is finally explained. It’s quite a long explanation, but Quentin sustains our interest by leaving a key element of the emotional part of the problem unresolved until the penultimate page. Perhaps the showdown scene lacks real menace and it’s arguable that too much information is held back until the end, but the gripping narrative, touches of humour, occasional splashes of local colour, and elements of romance and mystery combine to make The Follower a fine thriller with a satisfying conclusion."
Great post - always good to be weminded of the fine Quentin books - and I have this one on the TBR pile, so ...
At some point I will do some serious catching up on Quentin - work out which ones I've read, and who wrote what. Great post to help me on my way!
I used to live in an area with a library system that has (I use the present tense with hope) a wonderful 'back catalogue', as I think of it, a cornucopia of Golden Age and now in too many instances much-forgotten writers. It was there I acquired and devoured many Q Patrick/Patrick Quentin books. I thought them wonderful, though I agree with Christopher's observations. As I write this, there comes to me out of the blue Leo Bruce -- another corker I read in those days.
The library system where I now live has no 'back catalogue' at all in any category: to make room for new books, those of a certain age are just ditched. Not even a depository to house them as most systems have. But this leads me to offer a possible tip for those in a similar situation. The publishers of 'Large Print' books republish many Golden Age works, often of forgetten writers. I had given up looking for such in the library, but once I cottoned on to this, I just browsed the LP shelves of the branch nearest to me, and though not extensive, I was delighted to espy one book by V.C. Clinton-Baddeley. One book, but a find that made my day, for he too I devoured at that earlier time and with great pleasure. These LP books can easily pass under the radar, of course, for one is unlikely ever to chance upon reviews of them, so it's worth checking out if any followers have my dilemma.
Thanks, Moira. Philip, that's a good tip. I too find it disappointing that many libraries get rid of their stock after a short time, though when I've queried this, I'm told it's in response to customer demand. But a library that has old novels available is often a treasure trove...
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