Sunday, August 29, 2010

Forgotten Kiwi crime writer: V. Merle Grayland

As I noted last month, and some of you would no doubt have already been aware of, for some time now I have been gradually searching out lesser-known Kiwi crime, mystery and thriller writers from both modern times and days gone by (and where possible, acquiring some of their books).

It has been quite a surprising journey, especially as I have come across several lesser-known or otherwise forgotten Kiwi writers who produced several crime novels in their time. Many were even quite popular, but have now been largely (completely?) forgotten

Regular readers may recall the completely unexpected comments and happenings that eventuated after I stumbled across the works of Wellington writer Laurie Mantell (five Steve Arrow murder mysteries, 1978-1984, plus a standalone in the lates 1990s) earlier this year.

I have also previously touched on the likes of Freda Bream (who while retired published 13 murder mysteries starring the Rev Jabal Jarrett between 1982-1997), Edmund Bohan (who wrote five historic Inspector O'Rorke novels between 1996-2003), Carol Dawber (who wrote three Top of the South-set mysteries around the same period), and Elizabeth Messenger (who wrote at least nine crime thrillers that I know of, in the 1950s-1960s).

Another such forgotten Kiwi crime writer I recently 'discovered' thanks to the back cover of an old circa 1960s Elizabeth Messenger hardcover, is V. Merle Grayland. According to the sleeve of the copy of THE GRAVE-DIGGER'S APPRENTICE that I've managed to acquire:

"Valerie Merle Grayland was born in the old New Zealand gold-mining town of Thames. She has been writing since she was seven, when her first short story was published in the children's page of a newspaper. She had had numerous short stories and articles published and for a time concentrated on humourous writing. She is married to a New Zealand journalist and author, Eugene C. Grayland and together they run a small private press as a hobby; the Colenso Press, named after one of New Zealand's pioneer printers, William Colenso. She also enjoys reading, gardening and cats, but most of all seeing New Zealand."

It seems that as well as writing other books under her name Valerie Grayland, Valerie also collaborated with her husband Eugene on some New Zealand non fiction geography/history style books focused on the region where she live das well, eg TARAWERA, HISTORIC COROMANDEL, and COROMANDEL COAST.

In terms of her crime fiction, the 'blurb' for THE GRAVE-DIGGER'S APPRENTICE, which was published by London's Robert Hale and New Zealand's Whitcombe & Tombs in 1964, says:

"What was wrong with the lanky Benny Meer? What was he frightened of and why was he so interested in death? Why did he haunt cemeteries asking questions about a grave that did not seem to exist? And who put the poison in the pie - and why? Maori Detective Hoani Mata and his old friend, Inspector Plimsoll, seek the answers to these and other puzzling questions in a crime investigation with an unusual angle to it. Although The Grave-Digger's Apprentice was a name given in jest it proved to have a sinister double meaning in this New Zealand double murder case."

According to the inside flap, V. Merle Grayland wrote at least two other crime thrillers:
  • THE DEAD MEN OF EDEN
  • NIGHT OF THE REAPER

I've also seen mentioned elsewhere on the Internet a book called JEST OF DARKNESS by V. Merle Grayland, so it seems Valerie Grayland wrote at least four crime thrillers under this semi-pseudonym.

Have any of you heard of V (Valerie) Merle Grayland? Read any of her work, crime fiction or otherwise? Do you like stumbling over long-forgotten crime writers? Seeing the difference between crime writing then and now? And what is it about the smell of old books? Thoughts and comments welcome.

1 comment:

  1. I love discovering old books of all kinds, including crime fiction, mainstream novels, histories, biographies, and so on. Most New Zealand books are little-known in America, even though they are completely accessible linguistically. So I find New Zealand books an interesting field of exploration and hope to spend more time with them. Your blog is very stimulating in that respect!

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