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Sunday, July 28, 2013

James Mayo: Cover Gallery

James Mayo was the pen-name of journalist Stephen Coulter, about whom almost nothing appears to be known. Indeed, everything that is known seems to be encapsulated in Donald McCormick's entry for Coulter in Who's Who In Spy Fiction, which reveals that
Coulter was educated in Britain and France, studying in Paris in the early 'thirties. He began his career as a newspaperman in the British home counties where, he says, 'I was expected to do everything from reporting to making up and sometimes had to drive the delivery vans.' He had travelled widely and in 1937 joined Reuters News Agency as one of their Parliamentary staff correspondents. During the war he served in the Royal Navy and was appointed one of General Eisenhower's staff officers at Supreme Headquarters, assigned to special Intelligence work on France and Scandinavia. His work carried him to Paris immediately after the Liberation and for more than twenty years after the war he was staff correspondent for Kemsley Newspapers, including the Sunday Times, in Paris. One of the interesting sidelines on Coulter's career is that, but for his expertise and research, Ian Fleming might never have been able to write the casino scenes in Casino Royale. It was Coulter who provided the background to casino know-how and so saved Fleming from possibly dropping the whole idea. From then on Coulter saw the light and started to write seriously and furiously on his own account.
To this account I can add little. There appears to be some question over his year of birth—nobody has come up with an actual date—with both 1913 and 1914 being offered with almost equal confidence by different sites. McCormick reports 1914 whilst a Pan Books biography says 1913, adding that he was born in London and spent several years studying music and travelling in Europe and the Far East before joining Reuters.

I'm reasonably certain that Stephen Coulter was not his real name, or at the very least not his full name, although his novels were registered for copyright in the USA as Stephen Coulter. I should add that this is not proof in itself: Shamelady by James Mayo was registered for copyright as if James Mayo was a real name.

Coulter's debut novel The Loved Enemy was set in West Africa and was described by Marghanita Laski as being "influenced to a quite fantastic extent by Graham Greene. All the master's tricks are there, the potentially noble men defeated, the loathsome habits of the socially insecure, the unrelieved seediness, the long, long lists of depressing objects ... I don't want to be unjust to Mr. Coulter's very competent first novel, but undoubtedly its greatest value is as a means of learning something about a better writer." (The Observer, 1 June 1952)

Also described as a debut novel was Rebound by James Mayo, published many years later in 1961: "Another highly competent first novel, with no hint of inexperience," was Francis Iles' take on this story of blackmail. But, of course, it was neither Coulter's debut novel, nor even James Mayo's as, in 1952, Mayo had been used as a byline for The Quickness of the Hand, a thriller set in England about a man on the run, who believes that the only way he will prove that he is not a murderer, is to find the real killers.

A later biography of Guy de Maupassant, Damned Shall Be Desire, saw Coulter immerse himself in the period and his subject. "It gives a quite extraordinarily energetic reproduction of a pastily-glittering age, and charts with intelligence and sympathy, as well as minute familiarity, most of the external steps to Maupassant's glory and on to his terrible end." (Anne Duchene, The Manchester Guardian, 28 October 1958) His study of Dostoevsky, The Devil Inside, was written as fiction, which allowed him to elaborate on some of the more lurid moments of his subject's life. "The bedroom conversations ring true; but is it really necessary to describe what happened when the conversation stopped?" asked Richard West (The Guardian, 11 March 1960) as he complained about some of the more purple passages in the book. West's review gave with one hand and took with the other: "The physical Doestoevsky comes to life in all his sullen power; you can almost hear him mumbling. But you still cannot understand what he thinks, which is all that really matters."

"Too fantastic; too disassociated for a crime story; but it's well worth reading for setting and characterisation," was Maurice Richardson's opinion (The Observer, 22 July 1964) of A Season of Nerves, whose plot turns on a French peasant-farmer's ability to hypnotise a young Englishman tutoring in Limoges into becoming a homicidal psychopath.

Coulter's Threshold was serialised in the Sunday Express in 1964. A British nuclear submarine is damaged and becomes stranded on the seabed in Soviet waters and Britain's cabinet ministers have to decide whether to destroy the vessel and surviving crew or risk a diplomatic incident (or worse) with Russia. Offshore was set in a corrupt South American republic where the revolutionary movement in the capital is increasingly, and violently, active, against which backdrop an ambassador is kidnapped. The Soyuz Affair was a spy thriller set in Athens in which a newspaper correspondent discovers that the CIA is responsible for the death of three Russian cosmonauts.

James Mayo became best known in the sixties as the author of the Charles Hood series of novels—Hammerhead, Let Sleeping Girls Lie, Shamelady, Once in a Lifetime (a.k.a. Sergeant Death), The Man Above Suspicion and Asking For It. Hood is an agent for a group of businessmen known as The Circle whose interests often coincided with those of the Foreign Office and British intelligence services, who could call on Hood's aid in a crisis. The novels were violent, sexy and deliberately aimed at the James Bond market.

His novels Hammerhead and Embassy were both filmed, the former with a cast that included Vince Edwards (as Charles Hood), Peter Vaughan, Judy Geeson and Diana Dors, the latter starring Richard Roundtree.

Coulter's last novel, Blood-Tie, appeared from Constable in 1988.

PUBLICATIONS

CHARLES HOOD

 
Hammerhead (London, Heinemann, 1964)
Pan Books X461, 1966, 222pp.
---- [2nd imp.] 1966; [3rd imp.] 1966
Pan Books 0331-10461-6 [4th imp.] 1968; [5th imp.] 1968; [6th imp.] 1969
---- [7th imp.] 1971, 222pp, 25p. Cover: photo

Let Sleeping Girls Lie (London, Heinemann, 1965)
Pan Books X602, 1967, 187pp.
---- [2nd imp.] 1968; [3rd imp.] 1969
Pan Books 0331-10692-3 [4th imp.] 1970, 187pp, 25p. Cover: photo

 
Shamelady (London, Heinemann, 1966)
Pan Books 0330-10603-1, 1968, 188pp.
---- [2nd imp.] 1968
---- [3rd imp.] 1970, 188pp, 25p. Cover: photo

Once in a Lifetime (London, Heinemann, 1968; as Sergeant Death, New York, Morrow, 1968)
Pan Books 0330-02331-4, 1969, 192pp.

The Man Above Suspicion (London, Heinemann, 1969)
Pan Books 0330-02566-X, 1970, 191pp.

 
Asking For It (London, Heinemann, 1971)
Pan Books 0330-23231-2, 1972, 158pp, 25p. Cover: photo
---- [2nd imp.] * recover?

NON-SERIES

The Quickness of the Hand (Deutsch, 1952)
Pan Books G203, 1959, 187pp. Cover by Pat Owen
Pan Books [2nd imp.] 1963. Cover as above
Pan Books [3rd imp.] 1971, 188pp, 25p. Cover: photo
---- [4th imp.] 1971.

Rebound (London, Heinemann, 1961)
Pan Books G619, 1963, 155pp.

A Season of Nerves (London, Heinemann, 1962)
Pan Books X337, 1964, 190pp.

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