(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

L. P. Davies began his career as a writer in 1964 with the publication of The Paper Dolls, a novel rejected by four publishers because it did not fit into any of their categories. The Davies novels that followed The Paper Dolls and that Davies calls “psychic fiction” are just as difficult to categorize but could be described as crime and mystery thrillers with science-fiction overtones. These science-fiction overtones are a result of Davies’ fascination with science, psychic phenomena, the supernatural, and the workings of the human mind.

There are times when the overtones appear to be the dominant theme. Nevertheless, Davies’ novels can be categorized as crime and mystery thrillers because, like other works in the same category, they conclude with down-to-earth solutions that reveal that events that seemed to border on the supernatural have, after all, completely logical explanations. Davies’ characters, who often battle forces that appear to combine traditional black magic with twenty-first century technology, use their minds to resolve their problems, arriving at their conclusions by the familiar process of putting clues together and, through logical deduction, weaving them into solutions that are as rational and as satisfyingly plausible as any offered by Peter Wimsey, Father Brown, or Sherlock Holmes.

What Did I Do Tomorrow?

One of Davies’ strengths as a writer lies in his ability to bring about these conclusions. In What Did I Do Tomorrow? (1972), for example, a very confused young man continues to function rationally, assembling and analyzing clues as any professional sleuth might do, even though he is convinced that someone has transported him five years into the future. His problem is finally explained in terms of psychiatric practices that are relatively well established in fiction and television drama, if not in the real world. Similarly, in The White Room (1969), Davies uses an accepted tenet of folk psychology—that the dummy can take over the ventriloquist or the role the actor—to explain what has been happening to a man who believes that someone is manipulating his mind to force him to commit a murder.

The Artificial Man

Davies followed The Paper Dolls with a second novel, Man out of Nowhere (1965), but it was not until his third novel, The Artificial Man (1965), that he began to write stories involving individuals who are uncertain of their identities. In the novels that followed The Artificial Man, Davies returned repeatedly to plots in which the principal character has experienced some form of mental disorientation or depersonalization as the result of an accident, brain surgery, hypnotism, a cunningly devised deception, or the clandestine administration of drugs.

The Shadow Before

Davies’ preoccupation with characters who are experiencing a disorientation or identity crisis has been described as an obsession, but although it is true that he does work the theme for all it is worth, the careful reader will discover that Davies has something of importance to say about human freedom and moral responsibility. Davies hints at this conviction in words given to a Dr. Cowley, in The Shadow Before (1970).

Lester Dunn, the principal character, has had an operation to remove a...

(The entire section is 1388 words.)