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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Christopher Landon

Ice Cold in Alex (1957)
Pan G200
----, 1st imp., Jan 1959, 190pp, 2/6. Cover by Sam Peffer
----, 2nd imp., 1959.
Pan 0330-24048-X
----, 3rd imp., 1974, 202pp, 35p.
The thought of ice-cold lager haunted Captain Anson living on whisky—and his nerves—in doomed Tobruk. It became an obsession when he—and the crew of the ambulance Katy—set out to break through the barrier of encircling Germans.
__Each of them had a personal problem.
__Captain Anson fighting to keep going—without the prop of alcohol.
__Pugh, his Sergeant-Major, sensing in every nerve the tortured machinery of the ambulance.
__Diana, the young nurse, trying to avoid becoming a burden to the man she had come to love.
__And Zimmerman ... the big South African they had picked up—and begun so deeply to distrust.
__An heroic story, packed with tension and personal drama, of the ambulance 'Katy' and her crew—on a nightmare journey across 600 miles of desert.
Ice Cold in Alex was turned into a superb movie with John Mills as the besieged Captain Anson who is ordered to drive his sergeant-major and two stranded nurses (Sylvia Syms and Diane Clare) to Alexandria. The film manages to wring plenty of tension out of the drive, especially when they pick up an Afrikaner officer (Anthony Quayle). The reckless Captain Anson tries to outrun an Afrika Korps patrol and one of the nurses is killed; but Captain van der Poel reveals he speaks fluent German and saves them from capture. He talks them through a second patrol, and the crew of the ambulance begin to grow suspicious of him, especially when they discover a wireless transmitter in his haversack.

The movie is now considered a classic, as is the novel, although I was surprised to discover the other day that, despite the movie's great success and the fact that it was a Book Society recommendation, editions of the book appear to have been surprisingly thin on the ground. Pan issued the book seven months after the release of the movie and, although the cover was clearly inspired by the film, which was also mentioned on the rear cover (which featured a still of Mills and Syms) and the half-title page, the delay may have been fatal. A second printing appeared in 1959 but it was 15 years before Pan produced a third printing of the book.

Why this should be I have no idea. The book had appeared in 1972 in a library hardcover edition published by White Lion, the first new edition of one of author Christopher Landon's books in some years in the UK. Pan published six of his seven novels—A Flag in the City (GP100, 1958), Stone Cold Dead in the Market (G182, 1958), Ice Cold in Alex (G200, 1959), The Shadow of Time (G449, 1961), The Mirror Room (G595, 1962) and Dead Men Never Rise Up (X483, 1966)—but none of the later titles prompted a re-release of his most famous book.

Landon wrote only seven novels before he died at the tragically young age of 50. Christopher Guy Landon was born at Brantwood, West Byfleet, Surrey, the son of Cecil Westmore Landon and his wife Elizabeth Mary (nee MacKay), on Monday 27 March 1911 and was baptized at Old Byfleet Church on 29 May.

He was educated at Lancing College and Clare College, Cambridge, where he studied medicine. However, after working in a hospital and facing the realities of a medical career, he gave up the idea of becoming a doctor and found work as a journalist until 1936 when he entered the Stock Exchange.

In the early months of the Second World War, Landon was a 2nd Lieutenant with the R.A.M.C. (T.A.). He served with the 51st Field Ambulance in the Western Desert and with the 1st S.A. Division. With the Royal Army Signal Corps in Persia, he commanded the first native company raised for the aid-to-Russia trans-Persian route. He left the army with the rank of Major and relinquished his commission in 1951.

Landon returned to the Stock Exchange but subsequently resigned membership and became the licensee of a country pub. He also became a thriller writer using his experiences in war and civilian life to ground his novels in reality. A Flag in the City, his first novel, was set in wartime Persia; his second, Stone Cold Dead in the Market, was a crime novel with the Stock Exchange as a backdrop.

Hornets' Nest was a story about a bank-robber who, escaping by train, is involved in a crash with his double, who is killed. Assuming the dead man's identity he is caught up in an international adventure of espionage. Landon returned to the theme of switched identities in The Mirror Room. The Shadow of Time was a thriller set in Rye and the valley of the Loire and featured a private detective on the trail of a drug smuggler who has kidnapped a young girl.

Landon co-wrote the screenplay for Ice Cold in Alex and also wrote short stories; the listing of the latter below is probably incomplete and the IMDB notes that an episode of The Errol Flynn Theatre entitled "The Ordeals of Carol Kennedy", broadcast in 1957, was based on one of his stories.

Landon was married twice—to Isabella C. Campbell in 1935 and to Agnes G. T. Murphy in 1947—and had three children. He died at his home in Frognal, Hampstead, from barbiturate and alcoholic poisoning on 26 April 1961. An inquest was held a few days later, on Monday, 1 May 1961, at which a doctor stated that Landon had taken 35 sleeping tablets over a period of five days. Agnes Landon revealed that Landon, who suffered from thrombosis in the legs and had been ill for many years, would drink heavily whilst writing his books. He often worked late and would sleep in his study; she had left him working at 11 pm but found him dead when she went to his study the next morning.

A verdict of accidental death was recorded.

A Flag in the City. London, William Heinemann, 1953; New York, Macmillan, 1954.
Stone Cold Dead in the Market. London, William Heinemann, 1955.
Hornets' Nest. London, William Heinemann, Jan 1956.
Ice Cold in Alex. London, William Heinemann, Jan 1957; New York, Sloane, 1957; as Hot Sands of Hell, New York, Zenith, 1960.
The Shadow of Time. London, William Heinemann, 1957; as Unseen Enemy, Garden City, NY, Doubleday & Co., Jul 1957.
The Mirror Room. London, William Heinemann, 1960.
Dead Men Never Rise Up. London, William Heinemann, 1963; New York, Sloane, 1963.

The Christopher Landon Omnibus (contains: Ice Cold in Alex, Dead Men Never Rise Up, The Shadow of Time). London, Ravette, 1986.

Short stories and serials
Open to Conviction (Evening News, 13 Jun 1953)
The Skull and the Sword (serialisation, Argosy, Mar-Jun 1954)
Hornets' Nest (abridged serialisation; Argosy, Feb-Apr 1955)
Road to Karbala (Argosy, Jul 1955)
Forty Day Road (Argosy, Oct 1955)
Baghdad Bus (Argosy, Dec 1955)
Escape to the Desert (abridged serialisation of Ice Cold in Alex; Saturday Evening Post, 21 Jul-25 Aug 1956; as Ice Cold in Alex, Argosy, Oct-Dec 1956)
Golden Fountains (Argosy, Sep 1956)
Dinner for Four (Argosy, Apr 1957)
A Gift in Season (Argosy, Oct 1957)
Heart of Oak (Argosy, Sep 1958)
Caravanserai (Argosy, Dec 1958)
Djinn con Gin (Argosy, Jan 1959)
Caged (Argosy, Mar 1959)
Deadline (Argosy, May 1959)
The Mirror Room (abridged serialisation; Star Weekly Complete Novel, 30 Jan 1960; Argosy, Apr-Jun 1960)

Ice Cold in Alex, with T. J. Morrison (1958).

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