Friday, April 1, 2011

Forgotten books: DEATH OF A SKIN DIVER (1964)

Over the past couple of years I've been keeping a keen eye out for any New Zealand-written crime, mystery or thriller fiction, both contemporary and from days gone by. Here at Crime Watch I have shared some information about such 'forgotten' Kiwi crime writers, whose work isout-of-print and had to find, including the likes of:

  • Laurie Mantell (five Steve Arrow murder mysteries, 1978-1984, plus a standalone in the lates 1990s);

  • 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);

  • Elizabeth Messenger (who wrote at least nine crime thrillers that I know of, in the 1950s-1960s); and

  • V. Merle Grayland (at least three books in the 1960s).

Another forgotten Kiwi author from the era of Messenger and Grayland is Simon Jay, who published two mystery novels in the 1960s. I first read about Jay in the digital version of Joan Stevens' book THE NEW ZEALAND NOVEL 1860-1965 (Reed, 1966), available courtesy of the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre. In a subsection on crime fiction, Stevens says:

" Another sub-type flourishing in recent years is the detective story, where we have at least one remarkable success, Simon Jay's Death of a Skin Diver, 1964. This has a tight plot, good writing, and a really knowledgeable exploitation of the New Zealand setting. What could be better ingredients for a local thriller than skindiving, yachting and yachtsmen, expeditions by day and by night on the intricacies of the Waitemata Harbour (with maps), plus some smuggling, some science, some humour, and some murder? Simon Jay is a pseudonym disguising an Auckland pathologist; his amateur detective is, naturally, also a pathologist, Dr Peter Much, who looks like a winner."

It certainly sounds intriguing to me, although I have found the book very hard to find. I am also curious as to what constituted a "remarkable success" for DEATH OF A SKIN DIVER - perhaps it had great reviews or large sales for a New Zealand book of the time, although I haven't been able to find much more in the way of information.

Thanks to Scott McPherson at the Classic Crime Fiction website, you can read a short biography of 'Simon Jay' (with photo) and a decent synopsis of DEATH OF A SKIN DIVER here.

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