Monday, April 15, 2013

Slaughter, Cronin, and Shute

Ron Scheer, an authority on early western books and films which he reviews on his fine blog Buddies in the Saddle, has written about his search for a copy of The Mantle of Red Evans (1914) by Hugh Pendexter. So far the western novel has been elusive. A copy of the book will eventually turn up.

In my own experience, a hard-to-find book often shows up unexpectedly, sometimes right under my nose. Three such examples are the voluminous The Penguin Book of Comics by George Perry and Alan Aldrige (1967) and DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favourite Comic Book Heroes by Les Daniels (1995), and the western paperbacks of Sudden by British writer Oliver Strange. These books are never easy to find in India.

Ron’s search for Pendexter’s book got me thinking about some of the books I have been looking for. Regular visitors to this blog will be familiar with my predilection for the novels of Frank G. Slaughter, A.J. Cronin, and Nevil Shute. For some time now, I have been looking for three specific novels written by these gentlemen. As far as I know, they are not available online, in the copyright-free domain. I should, however, like to read hard copies of all three, especially Slaughter and Cronin. 

Frank G. Slaughter is an American writer and physician who is best known for his historical (mainly biblical) and medical novels. His The Thorn of Arimathea (1960) ranks among my favourite Slaughter books yet. It is the romantic story of a sceptical Roman centurion who finds love and faith in Galilee and how he and his petite consort, Veronica, spread Christianity in England. All his dramatic and inspiring stories are written in old-school English. His descriptions of places and landscapes will leave you spellbound. His style reminds you of Lloyd C. Douglas, his predecessor and another great writer of historical fiction whose The Robe and The Big Fisherman were made into successful films.

The Slaughter novel I am looking for is That None Should Die (1941), his first work of fiction, which examines the healthcare system through his own experiences as a doctor. 

I was introduced to Scottish novelist and physician A.J. Cronin by an uncle who demolished my plans to read Harold Robbins and Irving Wallace at the age of 16. “Wait till you are 20 before you read those authors. Read Cronin, instead,” he said to me. I nodded and like an obedient schoolboy borrowed Beyond This Place (1953) from a circulating library. It is the dark and touching story of a son who fights against the odds to prove his father is innocent of the murder he has been convicted for. I read this novel in the early 1980s and liked it a lot and I want to read it again. 

British author Nevil Shute’s novels are associated with everyday people whose fictional lives are set in the backdrop of aviation and aeronautics, his vocation during WWII, on one hand and the Australian outback on the other. He has a simple and effective style and it is easy to identify with his portrayal of middle class families. The last of his books that I read was Beyond the Black Stump (1956) which got me interested in his most famous work, On the Beach (1957), which is about the horrific effects of nuclear war. I may or may not have read this book earlier. Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner starred in the 1959 film adaptation. 

In addition to my perpetual hunt for books by Frank G. Slaughter, A.J. Cronin, and Nevil Shute, I don’t think twice before buying the early paperbacks of several authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Paul Gallico (who wrote The Poseidon Adventure), William Faulkner, Oliver Strange, Henry Denker, C.S. Lewis, George G. Gilman, Alan Sillitoe, Louis Auchincloss, Mickey Spillane, Ian Fleming, and Erle Stanley Gardner. 

Who are the early authors whose books you have been seeking out? And how successful have you been in obtaining them? I am hoping to educate myself with your feedback on your search for the elusive book. I bet it’s one I have never heard of before.


  1. Charles Nuetzel, but I got his. John D. MacDonald. I still have a few. Leigh Brackett. There are quite a few actually.

  2. You would be in heaven if you were to visit the used books stores in Chicago, Prashant. Nearly every single book written by the three writers who you enjoy so much are found everywhere over here. And you can get Cronin's and Slaughter's books for pennies. Literally. They are not popular writers any more in the US. They must've been huge bestsellers, however, in their day. My parents who were avid Book-of-the-Month Club subscribers back in the 1950s and 1960s have many books by Slaughter and Cronin who were popular with the BOMC editors.

    I have too many writers and titles that remain eternally on my lists of "The Elusive." Currently, I am looking for some very early books by Claude Houghton who I just discovered thanks to Valancourt Books reprints. I'd love to find more of Vernon Loder's mystery novels, too, but I'll be out of luck unless I travel to England. Most of Loder's 80+ books were not published in the US.

  3. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of any authors or particular books that I am searching for... Maybe Peter Dickinson (the mysteries) and a few books by Robert Barnard that I don't have.

    But... I did get a new edition of two books by R. K. Narayan (A Tiger for Malgudi and The Man-Eater of Malgudi) which I will be reading for the Global Reading Challenge. Thanks for suggesting that author to me.