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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Peter Cheyney part 1: The Lemmy Caution Novels

(* As promised in the original post back in January, I'm reposting the three episodes of the Peter Cheyney cover gallery now that I've had a chance to clean up the remaining images. Most of these can be found in parts 2 and 3, which you'll find as you scroll down. I'm still missing quite a few so I'd recommend that you also visit the Official Peter Cheyney website where you'll find an even more comprehensive collection.)

Here's a confession: I'm not a big fan of Peter Cheyney's work. Or at least his Lemmy Caution novels, which I find almost unreadable. I made it through a few of them, but the desperately forced tough-guy dialogue usually gets the better of me and I have to give up and go and read some decent hardboiled writing. But Cheyney was hugely popular during his brief career being one of the early exponents of the British hardboiled school in the wake of Hugh Clevely and a handful of others.

Although Lemmy's first-person narratives were wholly unconvincing, Cheyney's timing was perfect: his first novel appeared in 1936 and his books began to appear in cheap paperback editions just before the Second World War. With import restrictions quickly put in place, sales of Cheyney's books went skywards. In 1944, Cheyney published audited accounts showing that his sales topped two and a half million that year. And he was still able to churn them out at the rate of two or three new novels a year as he was serving at home (on medical grounds).

A workaholic, Cheyney produced 35 novels, 20 short story collections, dozens of features, radio plays and a screenplay in only 15 years before his sudden death in 1951, aged 55.

Although I'm not keen on the Lemmy Caution novels, his other work (Slim Callaghan and various non-series novels and collection) is at least readable. For me, the best thing about the Lemmy Caution books are the covers they inspired. I've managed to track down quite a few, which I'll be posting over the next few days.

This Man Is Dangerous (London, Collins, 1936)
Collins White Circle 245, Jan 1944
Collins White Circle 280, c.1944
Fontana Books 35, Aug 1954.
----, 2nd imp., 1956.
----, 3rd imp., Jan 1959, 192pp, 2/6. Cover by John Rose

Poison Ivy (London, Collins, 1937)
White Circle 242, Jul 1939.
Penguin 723, 1949.
White Circle 325m, Jan 1953.
Fontana Books 375, 1960, 192pp, 2/6. Cover by John L. Baker

Dames Don't Care (London, Collins, 1937)
White Circle 277, Jan 1943
White Circle 340m, Feb 1954
Pan G352, (Apr) 1960, 188pp, 2/6. Cover by Sam Peffer

Can Ladies Kill? (London, Collins, 1938)
White Circle 263, Jan 1941. Typographical cover.
Penguin 720, 1949, 240pp, 1/6. Typographical cover.
----, 2nd imp., 1950, 240pp, 1/6. Typographical cover.
White Circle 338m, Jan 1954
Fontana Books 244, Apr 1958. Cover by anon.
----, 2nd imp., Sep 1960.
Fontana Books 1143, Oct 1965, 191pp, 2/6. Cover by anon.

Don't Get Me Wrong (London, Collins, 1939)
Pan Books 195, (Jan) 1952, 184pp, 2/-. Cover by Wilding.
Fontana Books 96, Feb 1956. Cover by anon.
----, 2nd imp., 1957
----, 3rd imp., Jan 1960
Fontana Books 817, 4th imp., May 1963, 192pp, 2/6. Cover by anon.

You'd Be Surprised (London, Collins, 1940)
Note: two books by Cheyney were issued under the title You'd Be Surprised, one a Lemmy Caution novel, the other a collection of short stories.
White Circle 285, c.1944
White Circle 317m, Dec 1951
Pan Books 332, (Apr) 1955, 191pp, 2/-. Cover by Barrow
Fontana Books 612, 1962, 192pp, 2/6. Cover by John L. Baker

Your Deal, My Lovely (London, Collins, 1941)
White Circle 288, Mar 1947
Fontana Books 179, Jun 1957, 187pp.

Never a Dull Moment (London, Collins, 1942)
White Circle, Feb 1947
Fontana Books 61, May 1955, 2/-. Cover by John Rose.
----, 2nd imp., Jul 1956.
----, 3rd imp., Nov 1957.
Fontana Books 593, 4th imp., Oct 1961, 188pp, 2/6. Cover by anon.

You Can Always Duck (London, Collins, 1943)
White Circle 288, Mar 1947
White Circle 316m, Feb 1951
White Circle 329m, Apr 1953
White Circle 369m, Mar 1957
Fontana Books 305, Mar 1959. Cover by (?Tom Kiernan?].
Fontana Books 652, 2nd imp., Nov 1962, 192pp, 2/6. Cover: same as above.

I'll Say She Does! (London, Collins, 1945)
White Circle 301m, Jan 1950, 192pp. Typographical cover.
White Circle 347m, Jan 1955
Fontana Books 232, Feb 1958. Cover by anon.
Pan Books G680, 1964, 174pp, 2/6. Cover by Sheldon.

"G" Man at the Yard
Poynings Press, Dec 1946
Bantam Books, 1952, 128pp, 1/-. Typographical cover
Todd (with additional short stories), 1953
Corgi Books T159, 1956, 2/-. Cover by Sam Peffer.
Ace Books H388, Sep 1960, 160pp, 2/6. Cover by anon.
Four Square Books 1113, 1962, 3/6.


Mister Caution—Mister Callaghan (London, Collins, 1941)
White Circle 205c, May 1952
Fontana Books 590, 1961, 188pp, 2/6. Cover by Eileen Walton?
abridged selection as Time for Caution, William Foster, Nov 1946.
----, 2nd imp., 1948, 96pp, 1/-. Cover by Bob Wilson


  1. Tried one Lemmy Caution - 'I'll Say She Does' - and, like you, found it virtually unreadable, but it's staying in my collection because of the gorgeous Sheldon cover art.

  2. Have a look at the galleries on for hundreds of covers... and if you are struggling with Lemmy try the 'Dark' books, much stronger and more original plots.

  3. Hi Rob,

    Couldn't agree more - the Slim Callaghan novels and the majority of his other books are highly readable. It's that faux Yankee slang that I dislike, not only in Cheyney's books but in others, too.

  4. Cover artwork for Can Ladies Kill is by Renato Fratini.