R. C. Ashby (1899 – 1966)


ruby-ferguson_1Ruby Constance Annie Ferguson (née Ashby; 28 July 1899 – 11 November 1966), was a British writer of popular fiction, including children’s books, romances, and mysteries. She is best known today for her Jill books, a series of Pullein-Thompsonesque pony books for children and young adults.
Ferguson was born in Hebden Bridge and raised in Reeth, North Yorkshire. Her father was the Reverend David Ashby, a Wesleyan minister, and Ferguson herself later became a lay officer of the Methodist church. She received her education at Bradford Girls Grammar School and then at St Hilda’s College at the University of Oxford, where she read English from 1919 to 1922, gaining a normal BA and, a few years later, the Oxford MA.

She then moved to Manchester and took a job as a secretary, supplementing her income by writing a regular column for the British Weekly, and by reading and reviewing books for a publisher. Her writing career began in earnest when she submitted some detective stories to a weekly competition in the Manchester Evening News. Her first full-length novel appeared in 1926, and she continued writing novels and stories under the name “R.C. Ashby” until the mid-1930s, the best-known of which are He Arrived at Dusk (1933) and Out Went the Taper (1934).

After her marriage to Samuel Ferguson in 1934, she published exclusively under her married name, Ruby Ferguson, and her works underwent a complete change of style. Her next book, Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary (1937), a romantic novel, was popular and well-received and was said to be a favourite of the Queen Mother. She continued to publish a number of romantic novels but was best known for her series of “Jill” books for children, which have remained almost continuously in print since the first “Jill” book appeared in 1949. Later in life, Ferguson and her husband moved to Jersey, where she died in 1966. (Extracts from Wikipedia and Valancourt Books)

Bibliography: The Moorland Man (1926), The Tale of Rowan Christie (1927), Beauty Bewitched (1928), Death on Tiptoe (1931), Plot Against a Widow (1932), He Arrived at Dusk (1933), One Way Traffic (1933) and Out Went the Taper (1934).

R. C. Ashby wrote several Gothic detective novels decades before the trendy modern gothic suspense novel of writers like Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart.  Ashby’s mystery novels followed the style of the fair play detective novels of her British counterparts but often included supernatural and bizarre elements that most often were rationalized in the denouement.  In one case (Out Went the Taper) the supernatural element turned out to be genuine. Her first detective novel (Death on Tiptoe) is in imitation of Agatha Christie and has some interesting plot incidents but is rather thin stuff with too much emphasis on hysterical characterizations.  Only two years later she would write He Arrived at Dusk which is certainly her best work. A minor masterpiece in the subgenre of the supernatural detective novel it tells the story of an ancient Roman soldier who haunts a Welsh manor and a wicked murderer who exploits the legend for his own personal gain.  Ashby’s use of multiple narrators and a brilliant use of misdirection and misinterpretation is something to be admired for such an early work. (by J.F. Norris, at Golden Age of Detection Wiki).

J. F. Norris article on Death on Tiptoe at Pretty Sinister Books.

I would like to thank Kate Jackson, who blogs at Crime-Examining Crime, for addressing my attention to R. C. Ashby, a new to me author, and I’m gladly including her in my list of mainly Golden Age authors and of previous times. By the way the time period I intend to cover goes all the way from 1841 to 1960 and their books should be relatively easy to find at decent prices.

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Hodder & Stoughton (UK), 1933)

Book Description: From the moment William Mertoun arrives to catalogue the library at Colonel Barr’s old mansion on the desolate Northumbrian moors, he senses something is terribly wrong. Barr’s brother Ian has just died, mysteriously and violently, and the Colonel himself is hidden away in a locked room, to which his sinister nurse denies all access. As strange and supernatural events begin to unfold, Mertoun learns the local legend of a ghostly Roman centurion, slain on the site sixteen centuries earlier, who is said to haunt the estate. Mertoun is sceptical at first, but after another murder, a harrowing séance, and an actual sighting of the spectre one lonely night on the moor, he realizes that he and everyone at Barr’s mansion are in mortal danger. What does the ghost want, and can it be stopped? This long-awaited new edition of He Arrived at Dusk (1933), R. C. Ashby’s classic tale of mystery and the supernatural, features a new introduction by Mark Valentine and a reproduction of the original jacket art. (Source: Valancourt Books)

He Arrived at Dusk has been reviewed, among others, at Mystery File, Crime Segments, Cross-Examining Crime,

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