Francis Beeding (1885-1944/1898-1951)


Francis Beeding was the pseudonym used by a pair of British writers, John Leslie Palmer (1885-1944) and Hilary St George Saunders (1898-1951). They were Oxford graduates who met while at the League of Nations in Geneva, and it was while there that they decided to collaborate on writing detective novels. Palmer was drama critic for The Saturday Evening Review of Literature and the Evening Standard. As well as his collaboration on detective novels he wrote such as The Comedy of Manners, Moliere and other books on the theatre. He also wrote novels under the pseudonym of Christopher Haddon. Saunders served with the Welsh Guards in World War I and was awarded the Military Cross. He worked for the Air Ministry in World War II and was the anonymous author of the popular bestseller The Battle of Britain in 1940. It sold over three million copies in England and was translated into 25 languages. He also wrote The Green Beret (1949), an official history of the British commandos. He was librarian at the House of Commons from 1946 to 1950. As a team they also wrote mainstream fiction under the name David Pilgrim.

The pseudonym was a joint effort and was apparently chosen because Palmer always wanted to be called Francis and Saunders had once owned a house in the Sussex village of Beeding. Palmer and Saunders’ collaboration on detective fiction began with The Seven Sleepers in 1925. It was the first of 17 spy titles concerning Colonel Alastair Granby, DSO, of the Secret branch of the British Intelligence Service. Many of those titles contained a number from one to 13 but they did not run consecutively; for example The Six Proud Walkers was published in 1928 while The One Sane Man was published in 1934. Overall they produced 31 mysteries. Discussing their collaboration at one time Saunders commented, ‘Palmer can’t be troubled with description and narrative, and I’m no good at creating characters or dialogue.’

Perhaps their most famous novel was Death Walks in Eastrepps (1931), a title that the Sherlock Holmes scholar Vincent Starrett once described as the best detective novel that he had ever read. Their novel The House of Dr. Edwardes (1927) was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock as Spellbound in 1945, starring Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman. (Source: Goodreads and Golden Age of Detection Wiki)

Selected bibliography: The House of Doctor Edwardes aka Spellbound (1927); Death Walks in Eastrepps (1931); Murder Intended (1932); The Norwich Victims, (1935), No Fury aka Murdered: One by One (1937); and He Could Not Have Slipped (1939).

For a complete bibliography click at Golden Age of Detection Wiki.

187

(Facsimile Dust Jacket. Hodder & Stoughton (UK), 1931)

Heralded as one of the greatest detective books of all time on first publication in 1931, Death Walks in Eastrepps is a genuine page-turner, set in a picturesque English seaside resort and with a plot involving a double identity, a series of murders, blackmail, a courtroom drama and, unmasked at the end, an unlikely suspect. (Source: Amazon)

Death Walks in Eastrepps begins quietly–almost too quietly. Robert Eldridge is returning to Eastrepps on the London train for his customary Wednesday night tryst with Margaret Withers. At the same time Miss Mary Hewitt is sitting down to dinner with her brother James. Later that night she will make her usual visit to Mrs. Dampier at Tamarisk House. As she leaves to go home, nothing is out of the ordinary. But Mary Hewitt doesn’t reach home that night, and her corpse is found the next day in a little wood just off the path she would normally take. A brutal murderer–soon called the Eastrepp Evil–is on the loose. (Source: Goodreads)

Why is this worth reading? I’ve written before about early precursors of what was not yet known as the “serial killer” mystery/thriller; the term “serial killer” was not yet invented in 1931. But there are a handful of mystery novels from the Golden Age, such as this, that prefigure the modern serial killer novel. Mrs. Belloc Lowndes’ The Lodger fictionalized the case of Jack the Ripper in 1913. Philip MacDonald wrote two “mad killer” novels, Murder Gone Mad (1931) and Mystery of the Dead Police (1933, with two variant titles, which I discussed here). Agatha Christie flipped the narrative in 1936’s The A.B.C. Murders. And then there is Death Walks in Eastrepps from 1931, which was considered so significant that it’s on the Haycraft-Queen list of Cornerstones. This is almost certainly the most important book Francis Beeding ever wrote; the two authors who collaborated under that name do not cut an enormous figure in the history of detective fiction, but this book’s place is assured. Anything on the Cornerstones list is worth your time automatically. (Continue reading the full text in Noah’s Archive link below)

Death Walks in Eastrepps has been reviewed, among others, at Golden Age of Detection Wiki, Noah’s Archive, Mystery File, Mystery Flie (2), Clothes in Books, Cross Examining Crime, In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Past Offences, ’Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, La morte sa leggere, Vintage Pop Fictions and Bedford Bookshelves.

3 thoughts on “Francis Beeding (1885-1944/1898-1951)”

  1. Last year I read some six or seven of Beeding’s. Most of them were thrillers but No Fury was a decent mystery and i am sorry that they did not write more mysteries, wasting their talent in rather flat thrillers. Have this one on the shelf but I have heard such good things about it that I am keeping it for the last.

  2. I agree with the commenter above — their mysteries are well worth reading, but I find the “spy thrillers” hit-or-miss and as a result haven’t gone out of my way to purchase more of their old books because it’s often impossible from the titles to know which are the mysteries and which are the [less satisfying] espionage novels. I would say that the Beeding novels are not generally what you might call first-rank in terms of their writing or overall specialness, but they were good solid proponents of that between-the-war style of intelligent genre fiction.

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