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Monday, February 06, 2017

John Bolton

A mystery that has me mystified.

John Bolton was the author of eight swift-moving adventure yarns written in the late 1930s, centred around the popular subject of aeroplanes and flying. Although I don't own any of  his books, I was interested in finding out who he was and had a dig around looking for reviews.

His writing was melodramatic and full of rapid-fire action. "Cliches bristle in every chapter and incidents pile upon incident leaving the reader breathless," opined one reviewer. "Even the character are in a hurry." His debut novel, The Mystery Plane, came in for some criticism for its own rapidity: "This melodramatic novel of a would-be world dictator who established himself on the Broads, began to collect war munitions, stole 'hush-hush' plane plans, attacked R.A.F. planes and such trifles, bears the stamp of being hurriedly written."

The settings ranged from the Broads to Anglesey, the Isle of Wight to Iraq and Persia. The plots involved German spies, dope smugglers, kidnapping and murder. After his first novel, Bolton seems to have settled into a groove of entertaining, if cliched, writing, his next few books – The Air Sleuth, The Desert Flyer and The Air Smugglers – described as providing "a few unexpected thrills" and "A pleasant book for a leisure hour."

The most interesting of the eight titles might be The Island Mystery which eschews the usual enterprising young man as its hero. "Tales of smuggling by aeroplanes are not new, but in his evident knowledge of the character of the British Customs officer and his red tape and the places where the story is laid, Mr Bolton gets across a readable book. His hero is no dashing young blood of his Majesty's service, but a middle-aged Customs officer, a widower with two children, a boy and a girl whose mischievous doings and remarks are as good as any part of the main story ... The almost man-in-the-street character of the Customs officer, who is up against a gang who do not stop at murder only adds to the interest of a story which moves with increasing pace to a great climax in which Revenue cutters and Government planes battle with the smugglers."

Unfortunately, the war appears to have put paid to John Bolton's writing. His next novel, Perils in Persia, was issued a few months before war was declared and two more books followed, The Swimming Pool Murder in 1940 and The Spy Hunters in 1943. A series of abridged paperback editions was published by Dublin-based printers Mellifont Press, but these also came to an end in 1940 after six titles.

What happened to John Bolton is unknown. It seems likely that the byline was a pseudonym and if the author survived the war, he may have picked up his career under a different name.

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