Manning Coles (1891–1959) / (1899–1965)

I came across the name of Manning Coles upon reading The Haycraft-Queen Definitive Library of Detective, Crime, and Mystery Fiction A Reader’s List of Detective Story Cornerstones. Since I knew close to nothing about this author(s), I decided to further check into it. I have to thank Kate Jackson, who blogs at Cross-Examining Crime for her suggestion about which book would be better to tackle first and for encouraging me to read them. 

Manning Coles was the pseudonym of two British writers, Adelaide Frances Oke Manning (1891–1959) and Cyril Henry Coles (1899–1965), who wrote many spy thrillers from the early 1940s through the early 1960s. The fictional protagonist in 26 of their books was Thomas Elphinstone Hambledon, who works for a department of the Foreign Office, usually referred to in the novels as “MI5” .

Manning and Coles were neighbors in East Meon, Hampshire. Coles worked for British Intelligence in both the World Wars. Manning worked for the War Office during World War I. Their first books were fairly realistic and with a touch of grimness; their postwar books perhaps suffered from an excess of lightheartedness and whimsy. They also wrote a number of humorous novels about modern-day ghosts, some of them involving ghostly cousins named Charles and James Latimer. These novels were published in England under the pseudonym of Francis Gaite but released in the United States under the Manning Coles byline.

Many of the original exploits were based on the real-life experiences of Coles, who lied about his age and enlisted under an assumed name in a Hampshire regiment during World War I while still a teenager. He eventually became the youngest officer in British intelligence, often working behind German lines, due to his extraordinary ability to master languages. Coles had two sons (Michael and Peter, who were identical twins and who are both still alive, living in the UK) and the Ghost stories were based on the tales he used to tell his young sons when he was ‘back from his travels’. (Source Wikipedia)

Tommy Hambledon novels: Drink to Yesterday, 1940, Pray Silence, 1940 (American title: A Toast to Tomorrow), They Tell No Tales, 1941, Without Lawful Authority, 1943, Green Hazard, 1945, The Fifth Man, 1946, Let the Tiger Die, 1947, A Brother for Hugh, 1947 (American title: With Intent to Deceive), Among Those Absent, 1948, Diamonds to Amsterdam, 1949, Not Negotiable, 1949, Dangerous by Nature, 1950, Now or Never, 1951, Alias Uncle Hugo, 1952 (British title: Operation Manhunt, 1953), Night Train to Paris, 1952, A Knife for the Juggler, 1953 (revised American edition, 1964; also published as The Vengeance Man, 1967), Not for Export, 1954, American title: All That Glitters; also published as The Mystery of the Stolen Plans, 1960), The Man in the Green Hat, 1955, The Basle Express, 1956, Birdwatcher’s Quarry, 1956 (British title: The Three Beans, 1957), Death of an Ambassador, 1957, No Entry, 1958, Crime in Concrete, 1960 (American title: Concrete Crime), Search for a Sultan, 1961 (by Coles and Tom Hammerton), The House at Pluck’s Gutter, 1963 (by Coles and Tom Hammerton).

The Manning Coles spy thrillers occupy a formative place in the development of the espionage novel. Coles stressed the day-to-day lives of spies, the need for secrecy even from loved ones, and the awful requirements of betrayal and death each spy must be willing to execute. His novels have an edge missing from much inter-war spy fiction before him, and his style paved the way for the sort of atmosphere that would later inform the work of John le Carr? and others. A Drink to Yesterday and A Toast to Tomorrow still read well for both their period flavor and their ripping good plots. (Source: Charles L.P. Silet at Mystery Scene Magazine)

Manning Coles at Golden Age of Detection Wiki

Kate Jackson’s articles on Manning Coles are at Cross-Examining Crime.

Further reading: Manning Coles by Tom & Enid Schantz. Lyons, Colorado. January 2008. Rue Morgue Press. Retrieved 16 May 2020.

Its realistic portrayal of the real world of espionage is what makes Drink to Yesterday one of the most important books in the development of the spy novel, a fact that was immediately recognized  not only by the critics but by the general reading population. Howard Haycraft, the genre’s first historian, wrote in his seminal Murder for Pleasure that it fell first to Eric Ambler to give new life to the spy-and-intrigue story by bringing it close to a legitimate marriage with detection in such works as Background to Danger (1937) and Coffin for Dimitrios (1939). Gone from Ambler’s works were the “stereotyped cliches and slinky females in black velvet” found in the works of fanciful novelists such as William Lequeux, E. Phillips Oppenheim and H.C. McNeile (“Sapper”). Writing in 1941, the year the first two Manning Coles books appeared in the United States, Haycraft commented that “the mood of subtle understatement which [Ambler] established seems already to have found an echo in such superior works as… Drink to Yesterday and A Toast to Tomorrow.” He later added both books, with an assist from Frederic Dannay (one half of the Ellery Queen team), to his list of cornerstone books in the development of the genre. (Manning Coles by Tom & Enid Schantz)


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Alfred A. Knopf (USA), 1941)

When Drink to Yesterday first appeared in Britain in 1940 (Hodder & Stoughton) and in the U.S. in 1941, it was immediately heralded as a departure from the fanciful spy-and-intrigue novels that preceded it. Gone were complicated passwords, deadly dames in black velvet, and dashing aristocratic secret agents. Here, instead, was what Howard Haycraft, the genre’s first historian, termed “a mood of subtle understatement,” calling Drink to Yesterday and its immediate sequel, A Toast to Tomorrow, “superior” examples of this revamped genre. Drink to Yesterday was based on the early life of one of its two collaborators, Cyril Henry Coles, who left school, lied about his age and enlisted as a teenager in the British army during World War I. He was transferred to intelligence when his remarkable aptitude for conversational German was noticed, and he became the youngest member of Britain’s Foreign Intelligence Office (later MI6). Like Bill Saunders of the book, Coles spent much of the rest of war working behind enemy lines. Coles and his collaborator, a Hampshire neighbor, Adelaide Oke Manning, chose to cast his story in the form of the novel so as not to run afoul of the Official Secrets Act. Grimmer than later books in the series, it’s also an ingenious circular story of murder, enlivened by the sardonic humor of Bill’s mentor, Tommy Hambledon. (Source: Fantastic Fiction)

Drink to Yesterday has been reviewed, among others, at The Rap Sheet, Mystery Scene Magazine, Vintage Pop Fictions, Golden Age of Detective Fiction, and Noirish.

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