Sunday, 9 December 2012

Philip MacDonald

Last week I posted about Patrol (aka The Lost Patrol) by Philip MacDonald. Well I’m happy to report that the book is absolutely not proving a disappointment. It’s terse, violent, engrossing and brilliantly written.

The only reason I haven’t finished it yet is that it’s my public transport book. I keep it in the pocket of my coat, to read on buses and trains.

I’ve done a bit of research on MacDonald and found that he wrote under a number of pseudonyms. One of his most notable novels was the seminal account of a serial killer — many decades before that term was coined — X versus Rex, penned as by Martin Porlock (a Kubla Khan reference, I suspect) about a mysterious murderer who targets policemen.

Well, I had to get hold of that, and thanks to eBay I now have. My copy is illustrated here, with the great generic Collins Crime Club cover. Somebody should make a tee shirt out of it.

This second MacDonald book is also proving engrossing and readable — and it seems to have been as influential in its own way as Patrol, reprinted numerous times under various titles and filmed at least twice. Philip MacDonald is turning out to be a real find.

My only complaint about his writing so far is that he insists on spelling out accents phonetically in dialogue. So, for instance, instead of saying “with all due respect”, his Cockney soldier says “wiv all joo respeck”.

This is a really tedious habit. It has flatly prevented me from reading, for example, Clarence Mulford’s Hopalong Cassidy stories and all of John Creasey’s Westerns (for some reason, cowboy stories seem particularly prone to this aberration).

Other than Philip MacDonald, the only other really good writer I know who indulged in this solecism is George MacDonald Fraser, creator of Flashman. But, as with Philip MacDonald, I can endure it in Fraser’s writing.

I suspect this is not so much because they do it better, but just because their writing is of such a high calibre in every other respect that I am willing to forgive them this one lapse.

Don’t try it at home, though. I recently took part in a panel called ‘How NOT to Write’. And one of our major pieces of advice was never to spell out your characters’ accents phonetically in dialogue.
(Picture information. Other than using the eBay image for the copy of X v Rex which I recently bought, I have also borrowed images from two brilliant crime writing websites: Tipping My Fedora and Mystery File and the equally excellent more general pop fiction site Existential Ennui. They are all well worth a visit. Thanks, gents.)

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