(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

For their literary quality alone, the espionage novels of Francis Beeding are notable for their period. Where others might have written for those who sought fast-paced thrills and chilling descriptions of death and torture, Beeding’s style appealed to the reader requiring softer, more cultured entertainment. His style would satisfy those who enjoyed characterizations of ordinary people of wit and charm with tastes for good food and wine, fashion, travel, and the arts. Stories by Beeding also show an understanding of the reader who requires a semblance of plausibility in character and plot but who is able to recognize absurdity and accept it willingly when it makes for an entertaining read.

The Three Fishers

In Beeding’s espionage novels, characters sometimes display a type of humor not unlike that of Ian Fleming’s James Bond, whose spying for the British came later. In The Three Fishers (1931), the young Ronald Briercliffe, on a secret mission to Paris on behalf of British intelligence, is taken prisoner by Francis Wyndham, whose intention is to make a fortune for himself by creating an international panic during which military conflict would resume between France and Germany. For the term of his imprisonment, Briercliffe is confined to a small, narrow room in the attic of Wyndham’s Paris home. Shortly, and by clever means, Briercliffe manages to escape, but within a very few hours, he is recaptured and returned to Wyndham, having in the meantime narrowly escaped both being buried alive and being disfigured with acid. Exhausted, he is delivered to the same small room, where he flings himself on the bed and whispers, “Home again.”

Traveled readers might be gratified by the sense of authenticity Beeding gives by furnishing detailed descriptions of movement within the cities where activity in his espionage novels takes place. The following passage is from The Three Fishers, the setting for which is Paris:“Gare de Lyon,” said Wyndham, “and drive as fast as you can.” The driver let in his clutch and they ran swiftly down the Quai Henri Quatre. They made the Gare de Lyon in less than three minutes. Wyndham paid off his man, entered the departure side of the great station, crossed to the arrival side and chartered another taxi. “The Port de Vincennes,” he said, “and go slowly. I want to buy a hat.” Wyndham bought his hat in the Boulevard Diderot and then in front of a café in the Place de la Nation he paid the man off, saying that he had changed his mind and would go no farther.

The Hidden Kingdom

For the armchair traveler, Thomas Preston, the principal figure in The Hidden Kingdom (1927), generously gives to the reader a sense of place and a heightened anticipation of the action to come in his description of a scene in Barcelona:We were standing in the Plaza del Rey, on the site of the old Roman forum. It was approached on three sides by narrow streets, but on the north side it was unbroken....

(The entire section is 1231 words.)