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Saturday, March 03, 2012

Herbert Victor Lowe

Readers with long memories may remember a few years ago I ran some columns on "mysteries that have me mystified", covering a handful of authors that I could discover almost nothing about. Well, here's another little mystery that has me scratching my head. Maybe someone out there will be able to clear this up.

Back in around 1952-53, the UK company Scion Ltd. copyrighted a bunch of titles to the USA. They were possibly prompted by a couple of things: one of their chief rivals had set up in the US and was reprinting books for the American market, so perhaps the owners/editors at Scion thought there was an untapped market for their books and wanted to make sure they were copyright protected. Scion had also recently lost a number of popular bylines because they were considered to be owned by their main authors, so Scion bought in new bylines which they used as house names, which they owned. My guess is that it's a combination of these reasons, although there is an alternative: at least one author found that he could re-sell his books to an American publisher under a different name without the knowledge of his British publisher.

Whatever the truth, Scion, for some months, registered their books in the US but in a slightly odd way. The books were registered under two names as if they were collaborations. The real author was usually mentioned but in all cases the collaborator was one Herbert Victor Lowe.

I've always assumed that Lowe was probably an American agent whom Scion used to try and sell their titles, although there's no evidence for that supposition. Al Hubin (of Crime Fiction fame) suggested to me recently that Lowe might be British and the more I think about it, the more plausible it seems.

You see, some of the novels which Lowe "collaborated" on — within the copyright records — were "co-written" with one Scud Keddell. Now, Keddell doesn't exist... he was the first-person narrator of a number of books that appeared under Scion's house names. I doubt if I've tracked all of them down — these books are now as rare as hen's teeth — but Keddell appeared in at least the following:

What Comes Next? by Hans Vogel. London, Scion, May 1953.
Savage Siren by Hyman Zore. London, Scion, Aug 1953.
This Was a Woman by Hyman Zore. London, Scion, Sep 1953.
Carnival of Death by Hyman Zore. London, Scion, Oct 1953.
Date with Despair by Hans Vogel. London, Scion, Nov 1953.

None of these books have been otherwise credited to a real name... so could they have been written by Herbert Victor Lowe? There's a second name that I've always had my suspicions about who was also a Scion contributor: George Max. He's credited with writing "Midnight Sister" by Hans Lugar (Scion, Sep 1953), and the same author also wrote an earlier novel for Scion and two novels for Milestone as Johnny Farrell:  "Sugar You're Swell" (Scion, Aug 1952), "Curves and Angles" (Milestone, May 1953) and "Night Ride" (Milestone, Jul 1953). These all slot together as quite a neat little group; one author would have been quite capable of knocking a book a month (some could write a book a week!), although I should say that linking these two writers is pure speculation.

So, back to Herbert Victor Lowe.

In November 2014, I was contacted by Brian Lowe, Herbert Victor Lowe's son, who confirmed that his father was indeed the author of  novels for Scion in the 1950s. "I remember the paperbacks and the titles Cover That Corpse, etc. Unfortunately, much of our family belongings were disposed of ... without our knowledge when dad passed away.

He was born in Holborn, London, on 12 June 1916, into an artistic family. He had two brothers, one a bass baritone who also played the piano, the other with similar talents but who painted in oils. Herbert's talents included drawing cartoons and illustrations, playing the piano and writing.

He worked as a printer's compositor and was living at 207 Charlton Road, Greenwich, in 1939, in which year he married Vera Bessie Mackavoy, who worked at the same printing firm.

He died in Sussex in 1991, having spent time in hospital suffering from kidney disease and several heart attacks. He had been working on an autobiography, but it was never completed.

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