(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Elleston Trevor was intrigued with the psychology of a mind under pressure, of men forced to the edge physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Trevor’s early works frequently include Freudian psychoanalysis of everything from male-female driving patterns and responses to war-induced stress syndrome. A Blaze of Roses (1952), for example, sensitively traces the roots of psychosis: how the private horror of a long-term fantasy romance exposed as illusion drives a meek and mild man to turn arsonist and embark on a wild flight to Tangiers with police in hot pursuit. The Billboard Madonna (1960), in turn, is typical in its compelling analysis of the effects of guilt on a hit-and-run driver, who pushes himself to the brink of total nervous collapse in his attempt to expiate his guilt.

The Theta Syndrome and The Sibling

All Trevor’s work questions the human reponse to shock and trauma and the psyche that provokes the response. In The Theta Syndrome (1977), the victim of one murderous attack is so terrified that she literally cannot breathe and, while in a coma, develops telekinetic and telepathic abilities to project her fears, while in The Sibling (1979), a story of sibling rivalry and reincarnation, an innocent youth must face the reality of her brother’s insanity and his incestuous and murderous intent. Trevor’s detective Hugo Bishop argues,Human beings are never straight. . . . Our minds are spirals, curves, zigzags, circles—because before we can get anything straight in them, something gets in the way: a prejudice, a principle, a fear, a doubt, an inhibition. . . . Most of the time we don’t even realize why we do things, and say things.


Trevor’s Quiller series observes Quiller in extreme situations: flying a Russian MiG into a trap behind Soviet lines; being attacked by a cocaine-crazed murderer; and parachuting into the Libyan desert with a small nuclear device that he must detonate to destroy British-manufactured nerve gas. In every case Quiller continually analyzes his own neurophysiology, receiving instant feedback from his various body parts under stress and sending internal commands to control their function (“shuddup stomach,” “hands grip like claws”). He tries to separate his mind from the pain and to remain objective in the most subjective of circumstances, as he feeds his internal computer the complex information necessary to make the intuitive leap in decision making that will mean the difference between life and death. Trevor relishes including physiological explanations of the functioning of brain and body under stress and using terms such as “retrogressive amnesia,” “isolation factors,” “alpha waves,” and “guilt-transference.”

To delve into this psyche, Trevor depended on either a first-person narrative or a third-person omniscient narrative that focuses on the inner thoughts or reactions of two or three main characters. The first-person narrators often engage in a stream-of-consciousness internal dialogue that reveals to the reader what the speaker hides even from himself, while the third-person narrators are as terse and controlled as an Ernest Hemingway hero.

Dialogue and Imagery

Trevor reveled in including lengthy passages of dialogue in foreign languages, particularly German, to give the reader a sense of realism, of alien culture, and of competence. He skips about in time as one would if following the memories of a fallible narrator and frequently speeds up or telescopes time in accordance with the psychological situation of his characters. Often he takes one step back for every two steps forward. Sometimes the action seems to occur in slow motion, with several pages devoted to the passage of seconds, and other times, as in the following example from The Sinkiang Executive (1978), it races forward to its inescapable outcome:The gun had slid across one of the Chinese rugs and she wrenched herself free and got halfway there before I caught her again and threw her against the settee and went for the gun myself and got it and hit the magazine out and slipped it into my pocket and kicked the gun hard and send it spinning across the floorboards . . . as she came at me with her nails.

Trevor’s imagery grows out of a Darwinian view of nature, tooth and claw. The cat that toys coquettishly with men...

(The entire section is 1804 words.)