William Edward Vickers (1889 – 1965) was an English mystery writer better known under his pen name Roy Vickers, but used also the pseudonyms Roy C. Vickers, David Durham, Sefton Kyle, and John Spencer. He is the author of over 60 crime novels and 80 short stories. Vickers is now remembered mostly for his attribution to Scotland Yard of a Department of Dead Ends, specialized in solving old, sometimes long-forgotten cases, mostly by chance encounters of odd bits of strange and apparently disconnected evidence.
He was educated at Charterhouse School, and left Brasenose College, Oxford without a degree. For some time he studied law at the Middle Temple, but never practiced. He married Mary Van Rossem and they had one son. He worked as a journalist, as a court reporter and as a magazine editor; he also wrote a large number of nonfiction articles and sold hundreds of them to newspapers and magazines. Between November 1913 and February 1917, twenty short stories by Vickers were published in the Novel Magazine. About this time he published his first book, a biography of Field Marshal Frederick, Earl Roberts. He was the Editor of Novel Magazine. Vickers is best known for his ‘Department of Dead Ends’ stories which were originally published in Pearson’s Magazine from 1934. Partial collections were made in 1947, 1949, and 1978, earning him a reputation in both the UK and the US as an accomplished writer of ‘inverted mysteries’. He also edited several anthologies for the Crime Writers’ Association.
He also published mystery stories as Sefton Kyle, David Durham and John Spencer. His series characters were Inspector Rason, Hugh Stanton, Jabez Winterbourne and Felicity Dove. In 1960 he edited the Crime Writers’ Association’s anthology of short stories Some Like Them Dead. The Manchester Evening News called one of his collections, “one of the half-dozen successful books of detective short stories published since the days of Sherlock Holmes.” Vickers’s work has been adapted for film and TV, including Girl in the News (1940), Violent Moment (1959) and three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Season 3: 1957–58). (Source: Wikipedia and Golden Age of Detection Wiki).
Vickers wrote many crime novels from the twenties onwards, but those books bear no mark of being produced by the same man who wrote the short stories which begun with the invention of the Department of Dead Ends, an imaginary branch of Scotland Yard in which the details of all unsolved murder mysteries are kept. Vickers begun to write the Dead Ends stories in the thirties, but found it hard to sell them, because their realistic tone was utterly incompatible with the requirements of magazines at the time. It was not until Ellery Queen discovered “The Rubber Trumpet” and one or two other stories in the dusty pages of Parson’s and asked it there was a series of these tales that Vickers was moved to revive his highly original idea. …. When at last a collection of stories appeared in hard covers, as The Department of Dead Ends (1949), the brilliance of the conception was at once appreciated. (Julian Symons, Bloody Murder Penguin 1974. pp. 178 – 179)
One writer ferocious hostile to snobbery was Roy Vickers, who after a long writing career was elected to the Detection Club in the Fifties. William Edward Vickers, to give his real name, was educated at Charterhouse and Oxford, but left without taking a degree, and although he qualified as a barrister he soon turned to journalism. Despite his apparent advantages the smooth progress of his career seems to have been hindered by lack of money and a supportive social network. Vickers’ output includes a novel and a short story with different plots, both call Murder of a Snob. The Judge’s Dilemma, written under the name of Sefton Kyle, has a chapter called ‘Class Prejudices’ in which the near-impossibility of a young barrister succeeding in his chosen career without money behind him is described with what seems like personal anguish. Vickers’ writing simmers with resentment towards the ‘haves’ who patronized the ‘have-nots’. He recognized, as did many others in the Detection Club, that England in the Thirties was not a meritocracy, nor a country at ease with itself. (Martin Edwards, The Golden Age of Murder, Collins 2015. page 265)
- The Roy Vickers Collection by Martin Edwards
- Martin Edwards’ articles on Roy Vickers are at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’
(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Faber & Faber Limited (UK), 1949)
Here in one volume are ten of the best of Roy Vickers celebrated Department of Dead Ends detective stories. These are detective stories with a difference; the ‘inverted’ type of detective story. Knowing from the start who the murderer is, the reader is presented with the motive, the workings of the criminal’s mind, the crime itself, and all the clues.
The ‘surprise’ in Mr Vickers’s stories is, of course, supplied by the way in which his murderers are detected; and this is where the Department of Dead Ends comes in – that repository of files which were never completed, of investigations without a clue and clues which led nowhere. From time to time, quite illogically, Inspector Rason finds a connection between happenings in the outside world and the objects in his Scotland Yard museum, a rubber trumpet, maybe, or a bunch of red carnations. Then events move inexorably to their appointed end.
‘One of the half-dozen successful books of detective short stories published since the days of Sherlock Holmes.’ Manchester Evening News. (Amazon)
The Department of Dead Ends has been reviewed, among others, at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ A Penguin a week and Mysteries Ahoy!