Saturday, December 30, 2006

One of these days I'll shut up ...

... about Frank McAuliffe's Augustus Mandrell stories, but not yet. The stories themselves as well as comments from readers keep striking interesting chords and suggesting enticing tangents.

Mandrell is an interesting omission from T.J. Binyon's excellent Murder Will Out: The Detective in Fiction. Binyon's discussion of "gentleman burglars and Robin Hoods" includes the observation that "By the 1960s ... the gentleman-adventurer had become an anachronistic figure, and he was replaced by a character who was his opposite in every respect, Richard Stark's Parker."

Binyon is right; Parker is no Saint. Neither, though, is Augustus Mandrell, at least in one major respect: He's no gentleman; he works for a living. But Mandrell does have affinities with a figure Binyon cites as a pinnacle of the post-war gentleman burglar, Leslie Charteris' Simon Templar. Here's Templar, quoted by Binyon, speaking words that Mandrell might have uttered:

I'm mad enough to believe in romance. And I'm sick and tired of this age -- tired of the miserable little mildewed things that people racked their brains about, and wrote books about, and called life. I wanted something more elementary and honest -- battle, murder and sudden death, with plenty of good beer and damsels in distress and a complete callousness about blipping the ungodly over the beezer. It mayn't be life as we know it, but ought to be.

I don't know why Binyon omitted Mandrell. On the one hand, it's hard to believe that the widely knowledgeable Binyon didn't know McAuliffe's work. On the other, despite McAuliffe's having won an Edgar award in 1972 for For Murder I Charge More, the third Mandrell collection, his books are hard to find today. (I'd never read a word of him a month ago.) Perhaps McAuliffe's work had already begun to slip below crime fiction readers' radar by 1989, when Binyon's book was published. Or maybe Binyon had to draw the line somewhere. As it is, he packs an amazing amount of information into a thin book.

But perhaps Binyon simply didn't know what to do with a character who combined British sensibilities with American preoccupations.

© Peter Rozovsky 2006

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