Wednesday 1 August 2018

Francis Durbridge: the Complete Guide

One of the pleasures for me of June's Bodies from the Library event was the chance to meet Melvyn Barnes. I first came across his work when I read his Best Detective Fiction, and then its subsequent incarnation, Murder in Print. We've corresponded for some years, but this was our first meeting in person. He was at the British Library to speak about Francis Durbridge, an author on whom he is our leading authority, and about whom he's written a book.

This is Francis Durbridge: the Complete Guide. In fact, it's an updated and significantly expanded version of his Francis Durbridge: a Centenary Appreciation. That book was self-published; this one appears under the imprint of a worthy independent press, Williams and Whiting. I enjoyed the earlier book, but the new version does offer much more, and is definitely worth buying even if you invested in  its predecessor.

A brief biographical chapter is followed by a lengthy survey of Durbridge's career. Then come sections on his novels, his work for radio (there was a lot of it), his work for television (which is how I first came across his name in my youth), his stage plays, films of his stories, and (yes!) the Paul Temple comic strip.

One of the valuable features of the book is that it disentangles the numerous overlapping strands of Durbridge's output. He was prolific, sure, but he also re-used the same plots on many occasions. This can be confusing and indeed irritating, so it's helpful to be able to find out, for instance, that Design for Murder is actually a novelisation of the radio serial Paul Temple and the Gregory Affair, while Paul Temple and the Alex Affair is actually a revision of the earlier Send for Paul Temple Again. This is a book I shall refer to time and again, and it's a must for any serious Durbridge fan; a bonus is an intro by Nicholas Durbridge. I should declare that I'm mentioned in the acknowledgements, but that's immaterial - I'd recommend this book anyway.

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