Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Mystery Thriller

My pal Ray Steptoe phoned a couple of days ago to ask if I knew anything about the above book. It turns out to be a bit of a mystery title, previously unrecorded in Hubin's Crime Fiction Bibliography and by an otherwise unknown publisher. If only it were that easy!

The back cover tells us a bit more as it reveals that the book, The Mysterious Mr. Hawkins by Francis Marlowe was number 18 in a series of 'Mystery Thrillers'. The publisher, Ray tells me, was Publishers Agents Ltd. of 123 Grand Buildings, Trafalgar Square, London, although I suspect that was an imprint somehow related to Gramol Publications. Gramol were a hugely prolific publisher of cheap fiction between the wars, noted for publishing the original Paul Renin novels and dozens of other sexy novels as Gramol and Federation Press. The company was run by Arthur Gray and F. M. Mowl; the latter eventually packed in publishing, but Gray continued to publish during and after the war as Phoenix Press and Popular Publications. Gray's son, Barrington, also got into publishing, producing books under his own name and the imprint Grayling Publishing Co.

These connections are relevant to the Mysterious Mr. Hawkins as I'll try to make clear.

The original publisher of the 'Mystery Thrillers' series was Sharman Ellis Ltd., 61 Chandos Street, London W.C.2. I don't have any of this series but it is advertised on the back cover of a boys' adventure series that Sharman Ellis also published:

We can date those first 12 titles fairly accurately because the stories in the above books were reprints of stories that mostly appeared in American pulp magazines in 1936. Sharman Ellis Ltd. only appeared in the London telephone directory in 1936-37. So if the first 12 publications were c.1937, I'd guess that our mystery book must also be from that period, c.1938 maybe.

The connection between to Sharman Ellis/Publishers Agents and Gramol is confirmed by a couple of things. First, Sharman Ellis were partly responsible for a series called 'New Adelphi Novels' published originally by Arthur Gray and later by Gramol Publications. Secondly, Barrington Gray, son of Gramol's co-founder, later reprinted a couple of the books advertised on the back of The Mysterious Mr. Hawkins. Gray's 'Mystery Thrillers' were published in the late 1940s and were priced at 4½d rather than 2d. The Circle of Death (by W. J. Eliot) and The Murder Trap (by Don Campbell) appeared as numbers 9 and 10 of the new series in c.1949.

William James Elliott and Donald Campbell were both regular writer for Gramol. Campbell's The Murder Trap had also been reprinted by Gerald Swan in 1942, priced 4d and padded out with a couple of additional stories (Swan, shortly before, had been reprinting old Gramol Paul Renin novels). It's quite possible that Gramol had published The Murder Trap as part of an earlier (as yet unrecorded) series -- there are still a lot of holes in my Gramol list (long-time paperback collectors may recall that I published a list way back in 1990 through Richard Williams' Dragonby Press).

To return to The Mysterious Mr. Hawkins for a moment, it remains a little mysterious but it looks like it was published in c.1938. And, just to confirm that estimate, I've found Publishers Agents Ltd. listed in the phone book at 123 Grand Buildings W.C.2. I wonder when the phone books were compiled? Were they like comics annuals and produced in 1937 for 1938? When in the year were they published?

I've managed to answer my own question: the London telephone directory was issued twice a year in the late 1930s: A-K was published in February and August and L-Z was published in May and November. Corrections for the May issue of A-Z were accepted up to 20 February and corrections for the August issue of A-K were accepted up to 21 May. So there's an approximately 3 month delay.

So we can say with some certainty that Publishers Agents Ltd. arrived at their Whitehall (W.C.2) address between August 1937/February 1938 in order to be listed in the May 1938 phone book and disappeared some time after February 1939 (when the May 1939 phone book was completed) but before August 1939 (when the Nov book was completed). Approximately Autumn 1937 to Spring 1939.

I've just tried the same trick with Sharman Ellis and find that they are listed in the November 1936 to November 1937 editions, meaning they ran from approximately Feb/Aug 1936 to Aug 1937/Feb 1938 -- call it Spring 1936 to Autumn 1937. See how the two companies nestle nicely against each other? What's the betting that Publishers Agents Ltd. opened their doors just as Sharman Ellis closed theirs.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating detective work, Steve! The moment I saw the first "Mystery Thriller" cover here, the layout reminded me immediately of the Barrington Gray stuff. I know I have some samples in the boxes in my basement (including at least one "Jack Kelso" and an unacknowledged reprint of a vampire tale from a US pulp under the name "Chris Brand"). I bought them at Woolworths, probably in the early fifties. My pocket money didn't stretch to much beyond cheap remainders! (Does it now?) And, of course, when I scroll down, I see "The Murder Trap" cover has precisely the same layout and artist. Thank you for this background info.



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