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News and Reviews

Two English Thrillers

I have written before of the newspaper story of a reader who maintained that she simply walked down the aisles of her local library once a week and chose four books at random, from the shelves. She walked through a different section of the library each week--fiction, biography, history, it mattered not to her. She reported that she could only read one book each week, but chose four so that she could discard the "fizzers" and move on to the next one.

It was recently brought to my attention, in an introduction to a book discussing the "western canon", the list of so-called classic books in western literature, that a person cannot hope to read all the books she wants to, or feels that she ought to read, in her lifetime. So, perhaps, the library aisle-walker has the best approach to this problem of too many books and not enough time. At least she does not waste time on "fizzers."

This months postings include "The Hole in the Wall" by Arthur Morrison and "The Franchise Affair" by Josephine Tey I had not read either, and in browsing them both to see if they were "fizzers", became interested enough to read them both. It is always a pleasant surprise to find that there are so many books, of which one has never heard, which are of such high quality. Where there is no one to sing a book's praises, because it is not on a bestseller list or because there is no money to be made, such a book must wait for readers to stumble upon it by randomly choosing it from the library shelf, so to speak.

Some readers will be aware that "The Hole in the Wall" was serialised by BBC Television in England, with Nigel Rathborne playing one of the major parts. Few, I venture to suggest, will have read the book. Following its publication in 1902, V S Pritchett described it as "one of the minor masterpieces of the century," although the century was then not much advanced. Morrison is, at this time, perhaps better known as a writer of detective fiction, having created the detective Martin Hewett. However, in "The Hole in the Wall" he did indeed create a minor masterpiece. This tale of murder, thievery, and general villainy, brilliantly evokes the Dickensian squalor and evil of the East End of London in the second half of the eighteenth century.

The story is told through the eyes of a nine year old boy who goes to live with his grandfather in an old inn, situated beside the Thames. Many of the events are only half understood by the boy but the reader is left in no doubt about what is really going on as the tale moves seamlessly to its violent conclusion.

"The Franchise Affair", published in 1948, is also set in England and is also concerned with violence. However the setting and the period are very much removed from those of "The Hole in the Wall." Two women, a mother and daughter, living the quiet life in a country house, are accused of kidnapping and beating a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl in order to get her to do work for them. The charge is denied by the women and they engage a local solicitor to act on their behalf. He becomes engrossed in the case and it finally drives him to step outside of the ordered world of a country solicitor.

Josephine Tey, who also wrote under the pseudonym of Gordon Daviot, was baptised Elizabeth MacKintosh. A brief quote on the back of a paperback edition of the book credits a reviewer with stating that it is "one of the most intriguing detective stories ever written." That might be drawing a long bow but there is no doubt that the book is superbly crafted. As with Morrison's evocation of the East End, Tey's evocation of the setting of her novel is superb and the twists and turns in the plot are made entirely believable by Tey's ability to "lay the groundwork" for each development well in advance of its occurrence.

Both of these novels are well worth a read. If you read one book a week, you can have a break for a fortnight from walking down the virtual aisles of the Project Gutenberg Australia library to choose four books at random. What is more, both books are no further than a mouse-click away.

Australian Short Story


Saturday afternoon.

There were about a dozen Bush natives, from anywhere, most of them lanky and easy-going, hanging about the little slab-and-bark hotel on the edge of the scrub at Capertee Camp (a teamster's camp) when Cob & Co.'s mail-coach and six came dashing down the siding from round Crown Ridge, in all its glory, to the end of the twelve-mile stage. Some wiry, ill-used hacks were hanging to the fence and to saplings about the place. The fresh coach-horses stood ready in a stock-yard close to the shanty. As the coach climbed the nearer bank of the creek at the foot of the ridge, six of the Bushmen detached themselves from verandah posts, from their heels, from the clay floor of the verandah and the rough slab wall against which they'd been resting, and joined a group of four or five who stood round one. He stood with his back to the corner post of the stock-yard, his feet well braced out in front of him, and contemplated the toes of his tight new 'lastic-side boots and whistled softly. He was a clean-limbed, handsome fellow, with riding-cords, leggings, and a blue sash; he was Graeco-Roman-nosed, blue-eyed, and his glossy, curly black hair bunched up in front of the brim of a new cabbage-tree hat, set well back on his head.

'Do it for a quid, Jack?' asked one.

'Damned if I will, Jim!' said the young man at the post. 'I'll do it for a fiver--not a blanky sprat less.'

Jim took off his hat and 'shoved' it round, and 'bobs' were 'chucked' into it. The result was about thirty shillings.

Jack glanced contemptuously into the crown of the hat.

'Not me!' he said, showing some emotion for the first time. 'D'yer think I'm going to risk me blanky neck for your blanky amusement for thirty blanky bob. I'll ride the blanky horse for a fiver, and I'll feel the blanky quids in my pocket before I get on.'

Meanwhile the coach had dashed up to the door of the shanty. There were about twenty passengers aboard--inside, on the box-seat, on the tail-board, and hanging on to the roof--most of them Sydney men going up to the Mudgee races. They got down and went inside with the driver for a drink, while the stablemen changed horses. The Bushmen raised their voices a little and argued.

One of the passengers was a big, stout, hearty man--a good-hearted, sporting man and a racehorse-owner, according to his brands. He had a round red face and a white cork hat. 'What's those chaps got on outside?' he asked the publican.

'Oh, it's a bet they've got on about riding a horse,' replied the publican. 'The flash-looking chap with the sash is Flash Jack, the horse-breaker; and they reckon they've got the champion outlaw in the district out there--that chestnut horse in the yard.'

The sporting man was interested at once, and went out and joined the Bushmen.

'Well, chaps! what have you got on here?' he asked cheerily.

'Oh,' said Jim carelessly, 'it's only a bit of a bet about ridin' that blanky chestnut in the corner of the yard there.' He indicated an ungroomed chestnut horse, fenced off by a couple of long sapling poles in a corner of the stock-yard. 'Flash Jack there--he reckons he's the champion horse-breaker round here--Flash Jack reckons he can take it out of that horse first try.'

'What's up with the horse?' inquired the big, red-faced man. 'It looks quiet enough. Why, I'd ride it myself.'

'Would yer?' said Jim, who had hair that stood straight up, and an innocent, inquiring expression. 'Looks quiet, does he? YOU ought to know more about horses than to go by the looks of 'em. He's quiet enough just now, when there's no one near him; but you should have been here an hour ago. That horse has killed two men and put another chap's shoulder out--besides breaking a cove's leg. It took six of us all the morning to run him in and get the saddle on him; and now Flash Jack wants to back out of it.'

'Euraliar!' remarked Flash Jack cheerfully. 'I said I'd ride that blanky horse out of the yard for a fiver. I ain't goin' to risk my blanky neck for nothing and only to amuse you blanks.'

'He said he'd ride the horse inside the yard for a quid,' said Jim.

'And get smashed against the rails!' said Flash Jack. 'I would be a fool. I'd rather take my chance outside in the scrub--and it's rough country round here.'

'Well, how much do you want?' asked the man in the mushroom hat.

'A fiver, I said,' replied Jack indifferently. 'And the blanky stuff in my pocket before I get on the blanky horse.'

'Are you frightened of us running away without paying you?' inquired one of the passengers who had gathered round.

'I'm frightened of the horse bolting with me without me being paid,' said Flash Jack. 'I know that horse; he's got a mouth like iron. I might be at the bottom of the cliff on Crown Ridge road in twenty minutes with my head caved in, and then what chance for the quids?'

'You wouldn't want 'em then,' suggested a passenger. 'Or, say!--we'd leave the fiver with the publican to bury you.'

Flash Jack ignored that passenger. He eyed his boots and softly whistled a tune.

'All right!' said the man in the cork hat, putting his hand in his pocket. 'I'll start with a quid; stump up, you chaps.'

The five pounds were got together.

'I'll lay a quid to half a quid he don't stick on ten minutes!' shouted Jim to his mates as soon as he saw that the event was to come off. The passengers also betted amongst themselves. Flash Jack, after putting the money in his breeches-pocket, let down the rails and led the horse into the middle of the yard.

'Quiet as an old cow!' snorted a passenger in disgust. 'I believe it's a sell!'

'Wait a bit,' said Jim to the passenger, 'wait a bit and you'll see.' They waited and saw.

Flash Jack leisurely mounted the horse, rode slowly out of the yard, and trotted briskly round the corner of the shanty and into the scrub, which swallowed him more completely than the sea might have done.

Most of the other Bushmen mounted their horses and followed Flash Jack to a clearing in the scrub, at a safe distance from the shanty; then they dismounted and hung on to saplings, or leaned against their horses, while they laughed.

At the hotel there was just time for another drink. The driver climbed to his seat and shouted, 'All aboard!' in his usual tone. The passengers climbed to their places, thinking hard. A mile or so along the road the man with the cork hat remarked, with much truth--

'Those blanky Bushmen have got too much time to think.'

The Bushmen returned to the shanty as soon as the coach was out of sight, and proceeded to 'knock down' the fiver.


From "Joe Wilson and his Mates"
by Henry Lawson

Quotable Quotes

I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the idiotic and maniacal hooting for men. It is a sound admirably suited to swamps and twilight woods which no day illustrates, suggesting a vast and undeveloped nature which men have not recognized. They represent the stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all have. All day the sun has shone on the surface of some savage swamp, where the single spruce stands hung with usnea lichens, and small hawks circulate above, and the chickadee lisps amid the evergreens, and the partridge and rabbit skulk beneath; but now a more dismal and fitting day dawns, and a different race of creatures awakes to express the meaning of Nature there.

From "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau

Last month's postings

A list of all the books we provide is available from
Check there to see if there are other works by the authors listed below


Jun 2008 Perris of the Cherry-trees, J S Fletcher          [] 1645A or .zip
Jun 2008 The Clue of the Silver Key, Edgar Wallace         [] 1644A or .zip
Jun 2008 Boomerang, Helen Simpson                          [] 1643A or .zip
Jun 2008 Won by Crime, Frank Pinkerton                     [] 1642A or .zip
Jun 2008 The Autobiography of Cockney Tom, Thomas Bastard  [] 1641A or .zip
Jun 2008 The Flying Yorkshireman, Eric Knight              [] 1640A or .zip
Jun 2008 Easy to Kill, Hulbert Footner                     [] 1639A or .zip
Jun 2008 The Hole in the Wall, Arthur Morrison             [] 1638A or .zip
Jun 2008 To Love and Be Wise, Josephine Tey                [] 1637A or .zip
Jun 2008 The Privateer, Gordon Daviot                      [] 1636A or .zip
Jun 2008 Jim Maitland, Sapper                              [] 1635A or .zip
Jun 2008 When Carruthers Laughed, Sapper                   [] 1634A or .zip
Jun 2008 The Female of the Species, Sapper                 [] 1633A or .zip
Jun 2008 The Black Gang, Sapper                            [] 1632A or .zip
Jun 2008 Three Came to Ville Marie, Allan Sullivan         [] 1631A or .zip
Jun 2008 The Franchise Affair, Josephine Tey               [] 1630A or .zip
Jun 2008 Brat Farrar, Josephine Tey                        [] 1629A or .zip
Jun 2008 Sinfully Rich, Hulbert Footner                    [] 1628A or .zip
Jun 2008 It Needs to be Said, Frederick Philip Grove       [] 1627A or .zip
Jun 2008 The Final Count, Sapper                           [] 1626A or .zip
Jun 2008 Bulldog Drummond, Sapper                          [] 1625A or .zip

Other Information

Newsletter Editor: Colin Choat.

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