(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

It was John Creasey’s phenomenal production that led many critics to accuse him of running a mystery-novel factory, of sacrificing quality to quantity. Early in his career, Creasey admitted to turning out two books a week, with a break for cricket in midweek. Later, in response to criticism, Creasey slowed down and took more pains with revision and with character development. Even in this later period, however, Creasey averaged one book a month.

The fact that the Roger West and the Gideon mysteries can hold their own with books by writers who were less prolific than he may be explained by Creasey’s driving will and by his superb powers of organization. In an interview published in The New York Times (June 10, 1973), Creasey was asked why, having attained wealth and success, he continued driving himself to write six thousand words a day. In his reply, Creasey referred to the years of rejection, when neither his family nor the publishers to whom he submitted his works expected him to turn out salable work. Evidently a few successes were not enough for Creasey; each new sale negated that long neglect and validated his faith in his own ability.

Creasey is not unique among writers, however, in having the will to succeed. His productivity is also explained by the system that he devised, a system that he explained in various interviews. He began where all writers begin, with a rough draft, which he turned out in seven to ten days of steady effort. Then, like most writers, he put the draft aside so that he could later judge it with the eyes of a critic rather than a creator. It was at this point that Creasey differed from most other writers. While the draft of one book was cooling, he began another, and then another, and another. At any one time, he would have as many as fifteen books in process. Eventually, he hired professional readers to study his drafts, suggesting weaknesses in plotting, characterization, or style.

Creasey himself did not return to the first draft until at least six months had passed. By the time he had completed several revisions and pronounced the book ready for publication, it would have been a year since he began to write that particular book. Thus, it is unfair to accuse Creasey of simply dashing off his mysteries, at least in the last twenty-five or thirty years of his life. Instead, he mastered the art of juggling several aspects of the creative process at one time, thinking out one plot, developing another, and revising a third and a fourth, while most writers would have been pursuing a single idea.

Creasey is unusual in that one cannot trace his development by examining his books in chronological order. There are two reasons for this critical difficulty. One is that he frequently revised his books after they had initially been published, improving the style, updating details, even changing names of sleuths. Thus, it is difficult to fit many novels into a time frame. There is, however, an even greater problem. At one and the same time, Creasey would be dashing off a novel with a fast-moving plot and fairly simple characters (such as those of the Toff series) and one of the much-admired Gideon books, which depend on psychological complexity and the juggling of multiple plots, or perhaps one of the suspenseful, slowly developing Inspector Roger West books. Therefore it is as if Creasey were several different writers at the same time, as his pseudonyms suggest; if anyone but Creasey were involved, one would find it difficult to believe that one person could bring out in a single year books that seem to reflect such different stages of artistic development.

Perhaps because his productivity was so amazing, perhaps because he himself was obsessed with it, Creasey’s comments about his art generally deal with his system of composition. An intensely practical man, he considered the mystery novel an art form but was impatient with what he saw as attempts to make the art itself mysterious. Responsive to criticism, as well as to sales figures, Creasey was willing to change and to improve to please his public. Not only did he take more pains with his writing after his early books, though commercially successful, were classified as mediocre by the critics, but he also developed a character, Inspector Roger West, specifically to suit the tastes of an American public that until 1952 had not shown an interest in Creasey’s work. With Inspector West Cries Wolf (1950;...

(The entire section is 1820 words.)