I'm indulging myself this evening with a gallery dedicated to one of my favourite thriller writers, Duncan Kyle. My Dad preferred reading crime and thrillers to any other genre, although he had a great liking for westerns, too. But he always had a few paperbacks laying around and he was more than happy for me to read them.
Alistair MacLean was a great favourite, as were Hammond Innes and Desmond Bagley. I recently dug out a load of thrillers to re-read and found the MacLean's slow going: The Satan Bug wasn't half as good as I remembered (although that could be because I read it so long ago I was actually remembering the film more than the book) although The Golden Rendezvous was still a great read. MacLean was always at his best on the high seas.
Also lurking in boxes was a run of books by Duncan Kyle, one of the best of the thriller writers. His real name was John Franklin Broxholme, born in Bradford on 11 June 1930. After attending Bradford Grammar School, he joined the Bradford Telegraph and Argus as a copy boy where he learned his trade as a reporter. Following his national service (two years with British Army Intelligence), he joined the Leicester Mercury as a sub-editor, then as picture editor for the Yorkshire Post.
In 1957 he joined Odhams Press, working as assistant editor on Today, the revamped John Bull magazine, before becoming editor of TV World in 1964.
Whilst at Today, editor Warwick Charlton was sent to the Dordogne to gather interview material with Stephen Ward—at the centre of the Profumo scandal—and his copy was sent back to the UK by daily courier for Broxholme to edit into a book. Stephen Ward Speaks (London, Today Magazine, 1963) was on the bookstalls two weeks later. A bet to see if he could write a novel faster than Edgar Wallace led to the publication of The War Queen, a historical about Queen Boadicea.
The War Queen had been published in both hardcovers and paperback and Broxholme set about writing a thriller which he submitted to Collins (Alistair MacLean's publisher). MacLean was also in part the inspiration for his choice of a Scottish-sounding name as a pseudonym.
It is said that Sir Billy Collins, then living over the publishing office in Covent Garden, was suffering a sleepless night. He wandered down to his office and picked up the first manuscript to hand, which was A Cage of Ice by Duncan Kyle. Collins was awake all night reading the manuscript and made Broxholme an offer for it the next day.
There followed a string of very successful novels of high adventure. Broxholme researched each book carefully so that the settings were wholly convincing, whether it was an American research station in the Arctic or the jungles of Borneo. The idea for Flight into Fear was inspired by a transatlantic flight he made in a light aircraft; A Raft of Swords was written following a long journey on a log raft in British Columbia; the writing of Terror's Cradle involved trips to Nevada, Sweden and the Shetlands; for In Deep he visited US Army research stations in the Arctic; and Black Camelot was inspired by a trip to Himmler's secret fortress, the Wewelsbrug.
Like his fellow thriller writers, Broxholme realised that having your hero simply bump heads with a villain, however villainous, made for dull reading; instead, the thrills came from battling against nature, whether that was sub-zero icy wastelands or the scorching deserts of Australia. There are few writers capable of matching the tension of Flight into Fear where the main protagonist is flying across the Atlantic and has to exit the plane to get to an external fuel tank.
In the late 1970s, and after six relatively straightforward thrillers (one of which, The Semonov Impulse, originally appeared under the name James Meldrum), Broxholme branched out to write a couple of historical thrillers: both Black Camelot and Stalking Point had World War 2 settings while The King's Commissar had a duel plot, partly a contemporary thriller about a financial mystery and partly set during the Russian Revolution and Tsar Nicholas II's downfall.
Broxholme was married to Alison (nee Hair), a teacher, who died in 1992 from motor-neurone disease and his last book, the aptly named Exit, published five years after The Honey Ant, appeared the following year. Kyle and his family, including three children, lived in Sussex. He died at the end of June 2000.
It's a shame that one of our finest thriller writers is nowadays all but forgotten—although thankfully not by all. Since writing the original post back in June 2008, one of Kyle's Second World War adventure yarns, Black Camelot, has been reprinted by Ostara Publishing in their 'Top Notch Thrillers' line chosen by Mike Ripley.
Novels as John Broxholme
The War Queen. London, Leslie Frewin, 1967.
Novels as Duncan Kyle (series: John Close)
A Cage of Ice. London, London, Collins, 1970; New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1971.
Flight Into Fear. London, Collins, 1972; New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1972.
A Raft of Swords. London, Collins, 1974; as The Suvarov Adventure, .New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1974.
Terror’s Cradle. New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1974; London, Collins, 1975.
In Deep. London, Collins, 1976; as Whiteout!, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1976; London, Fontana, 1977.
Black Camelot. London, Collins, 1978; New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1978.
Green River High. London, Collins, 1979; New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1980.
Stalking Point. London, Collins, 1981; New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1982.
The King’s Commissar. London, Collins, 1983; New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1984.
The Dancing Men. London, Collins, 1985; New York, Holt, 1986.
The Honey Ant (Close). London, Collins, 1988.
Exit (Close). London, HarperCollins, 1993.
Novels as James Meldrum
The Semonov Impulse. London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1975; New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1976; as by Duncan Kyle, Fontana, 1983.
The War Queen (London, Leslie Frewin, 1967)
Arrow Books 116, 1968, 192pp, 3/6. Cover by unknown
Scourged in her own house, her daughters raped before her, Boadicea's vengeance was wrought unmercifully and with bestial cruelty. But she knew that if her rebellion was to succeed, she must defeat the Roman army under the command of Sautonius Paulinus, one of the greatest generals of his time. For him, his troops outnumbered by more than ten to one, victory would be a miracle...
Fontana 0006-13402-5, 1972
——, 2nd imp., Nov 1972
——, 3rd imp., Jan 1973
——, 4th imp., Nov 1973 [Feb 1974], 188pp, 30p. Cover by Chris Foss
Fontana 0006-13877-2, 5th imp., Jan 1975, 188pp, 40p. Cover by Chris Foss
——, 10th imp., Apr 1980. Cover by Peter Elson
Ostara Publishing 978-1906-28871-6, (Mar) 2012, 204pp, £10.99. Cover: photo
The cold, cold war...
Surgeon John Edwards receives a letter postmarked Moscow, and addressed to Professor Edwards, F.A.G.S. Three obvious mistakes—or are they.
__From that moment he is in constant danger, and the mystery builds to encompass a plot so iniquitous that the C.I.A. are forced to act swiftly to prevent a world catastrophe. The spine-chilling climax, in the depths of Arctic Russia, moves at breakneck pace as an international team races across the lethal ice to snatch a Russian scientist from the K.G.B....
Flight into Fear (London, Collins, 1972; New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1972)
Fontana 0006-13587-0, 1973, 220pp, 30p. Cover by Chris Foss
Mayday at Cape Farewell...
At eight hundred feet the Atlantic waves looked huge; they also looked terrifyingly near, rearing up hungrily as though to lick at our feet, and still there was no sign from the engines that fuel was being burned.
__I switched on the radio. "Mayday, Mayday. Golf Alpha Lima Zulu, ditching in the North Atlantic approximately seventy miles south of Cape Farewell. Mayday, Mayday..."
__The surging Atlantic was only five hundred feet below us now, white foam on angry black waves, and still the Tiger plunged downward...
Fontana 0006-14225-7, 1975, 222pp, 50p. Cover by unknown
Fontana ????, 1989?. Cover by Tony Roberts
Spy and counter-spy...
As plans go ahead for an International Peace Conference in Vancouver, a number of shadowy, unrelated characters head towards the Canadian shore. They include:
__A Greek shipping magnate with Russian connection
__A British expert on 'mini-subs'
__A team of frogmen with exaggerated 'American' accents
__The head of the Russian section of British intelligence
__When six Sword nuclear missiles are dislodged from the floor of the ocean, the scene is set for some desperate international intrigue...
Fontana 4675, 1976, 222pp, 70p. Cover by Chris Foss
Fontana 5564, 2nd imp., Apr 1979, 222pp, 80p. Cover by Peter Elson
——, 3rd imp., May 1980, 222pp, £1.00. Cover by Peter Elson
Ostara Publishing 978-1906-28872-3, (Mar) 2012, 204pp, £10.99. Cover: photo
In Las Vegas journalist John Sellers, on a routine assignment to interview a movie star, is run out of town after a threat on his life.
__In Gothenberg Alison, the girl he plans to marry, disappears with a vital piece of microfilm, leaving clues that only Sellers can understand.
__In the Shetlands, hunted by helicopter and powerboat, he pits his wits against both CIA and KGB as he barters desperately for Alison's life...
The Semonov Impulse (as by James Meldrum, London, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1975; New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1976)
Fontana 6741, 1983, 224pp, £1.50. Cover by unknown
There was no time to plan, little time to think, but there was time, just time, to act...
__The Israelis want him because the hijack failed and now he is an embarrassment.
__The Russians want him because he has kidnapped their top female gymnast.
__The British want him because of the trail of blood he's left all over England.
__All Budzinski wants is the Nazi butcher of Layerhauser, the prison camp he just barely survived...
Whiteout! (as In Deep, London, Collins, 1976; as Whiteout!, New York, St. Martin's Press, 1976)
Fontana 4797, 1977.
——, 2nd imp., May 1978, 221pp, 75p. Cover by Tony Roberts
Seven thousand feet up on the Greenland ice-cap, in the teeth of 'white-out' blizzards and howling Arctic gales, the American army Polar research station lies cut off beneath the snow.
__At Camp Hundred, deep underground, three hundred men live—with a battery of technology to protect them from the lethal climate. But the technology begins to fail: 'accidents' happen too often to be a coincidence.
__The isolated camp becomes a death-trap, with a madman setting the snares...
Fontana 0006-16899-X, (Sep) 1979, 251pp, 95p. Cover: bullet hole design
——, 2nd imp.
——, 3rd imp., Feb 1985, 251pp, £1.95. Cover by unknown
——, [Xth] imp., 1987.
——, [Xth] imp., Mar 1989.
Ostara Publishing 1906-28842-9, (Jul) 2010, 212pp, £10.99. Cover: photo
Set deep within the heart of Germany lies an Arthurian fortress--a secret Nazi stronghold where some of Germany's most powerful men sit in collusion around Himmler's Round Table...
__It is 1945 and Germany stands on the edge of defeat. The desperate men seek ways to avert the final collapse and to drive a wedge between the Allies. Their only weapon lies hidden in the secret archives of black Camelot.
__"A skilfully plotted complex of espionage and blackmail"—Daily Mail.
__"This is a thriller that thrills... rich in incident, adventure, escapes and pursuits; and it ends with a spectacular conflagration"—Financial Times.
__"... Keeps you reading almost hypnotised"—The Times.
Fontana 6001, 1980, 251pp, £1.25.
——, 6th imp., Mar 1987.
His most exciting thriller takes an unwilling hero—and his unlikely companion—on a nightmare journey in the guerilla-infested jungles of Borneo. The goal is a World War II bomber, lost in 1945 in some of the most dangerous terrain in the world. The prize is a fortune in rubies. Their enemies are deadly...
Fontana 6561, 1983, 288pp, £1.75. Cover by unknown
----, 3rd imp., Mar 1989, 288pp, £2.95. Cover by unknown
The year is 1941. The battleship Prince of Wales races across the war-darkened Atlantic. Her secret human cargo makes her an irresistible prize for U-Boats. And the man she carries can, single-handed, win or lose the war for Britain.
__But the most lethal threat comes from the air. For on the far side of the ocean three men are waiting for their brief chance to strike a deathblow for Germany. As the battleship nears its destination, a seaplane roars into life, and the deadly game begins in earnest...
The King's Commissar (London, Collins, 1983; New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1984)
Fontana 0006-16896-5, 1984, 286pp, £1.75.
1917. Russia. On orders from King George V, a British officer mounted a daring rescue attempt on the Imperial Russian family. The trade-off was a vast shipment of royal gold intended for the purchase of Bolshevik arms.
__The whereabouts of the royal treasure is still an enigma.
__1983. London. Every year since 1920, Hillyard & Cleef, the respectable merchant bank in the City of London, placed a large sum of money into a numbered Swiss bank account. Laurence Pilgrim, the new American partner, is determined to find out why. No threats of reprisals or dangers will deter him.
__The Link. The story is to be revealed in seven instalments. Failure to follow instructions will mean disaster...
The Dancing Men (London, Collins, 1985; New York, Holt, 1986)
Fontana 7199, 1986. *Continental edition
——, 2nd imp., Jun 1986, 256pp, £2.50.
John Leyden's future seemed set for glory—until a deadly secret erupted from his past!
__Leyden is poised to become President of the United States. It was only prudent, then, to make sure there were no skeletons in his family cupboard: London record agent Warwick Todd was hired to do the job, concentrating on one Joseph Patrick Connor--born in Ireland in the 1850s, soldier of the British Army and immigrant to the United States around 1900.
__The information Todd uncovers about Connor is so explosive that Leyden's opponents will pay dearly to have it. Leyden's brilliant career is suddenly up for grabs. But Warwick Todd is playing for the highest stakes of all—life itself...
The Honey Ant (London, Collins, 1988)
Fontana 0006-17645-3, 1988. *Continental edition
——, 2nd imp., 1989, 256pp, £2.95.
An unexpected legacy... an unforeseeable threat.
The yellowed envelope goes to John Close, a young Perth solicitor. The Green estate, eighty square miles of priceless land in Western Australia, has been left to Captain Strutt who lives on the other side of the world in England. For John Close, it should be another routine matter. For Strutt—tough, resolute, touchy—it could be a dream come true.
__But for both of them it quickly turns into a dance with death, as mysterious and dangerous opponents try to thwart the terms of the Will. As they struggle to unravel the knot that is stitched tight around Stringer Station, sixty years of remote tranquility erupt into a brutal, terrible violence...
HarperCollins 0006-47613-9, 1993, 253pp, £4.99.
Who was Peterkin? Lawyer John Close knew him only as a client, but the death of this strange, quiet man leaves Close with a lethally dangerous mystery to solve.
__A bizarre trail of clues will take Close from Western Australia to England before he can uncover the secret that made Peterkin a hunted man, a secret with its roots in the Second World War, a secret of wealth and revenge for which intelligence agencies from around the world are still prepared to kill.
__Set against the momentous changes of modern history, Exit builds to a climax of unrelenting suspense and excitement.