Winston Graham is best known as the author of the Poldark saga, a series of historical novels about an eighteenth century Cornwall family. Seven of these books were dramatized for a British Broadcasting Company (BBC) series in the 1970’s and were also shown in the United States on Masterpiece Theatre. In addition, from early in his career Graham wrote suspense novels, including The Little Walls, which the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain named the best English mystery of 1955, and six others that have been made into films: Take My Life (1947), Night Without Stars (1950), Fortune Is a Woman (1953), The Sleeping Partner (1956), Marnie (1961), and The Walking Stick (1967).
Graham’s thrillers usually have young women as protagonists-narrators, people whose personalities have been affected by traumatic childhood experiences or singular family relationships. Graham develops these complex central figures in depth; they are not at all the two-dimensional stereotypes that are common in suspense fiction. This thoroughness of characterization, combined with first-person narration and realistic milieus, inevitably leads the reader to empathize with the protagonists, even those who are amoral or involved in illegal activities. Graham is equally skillful at developing his plots, heightening tension through a series of quickly paced incidents that build to a suspenseful climax in which the hero or heroine’s fate is on the line. Although this is formula writing, it is of the highest level, for within a standard framework Graham offers so much variety of character, plot, and setting that echoes of one book in another seem insignificant.
Marnie may be the most familiar of Graham’s numerous suspense novel protagonists, primarily because of Alfred Hitchcock’s film version of the 1961 novel in which she is the title character. For more than three decades, from Philip Turner in The Little Walls to David Abden in The Green Flash (1986), Graham created fully realized characters, frequently loners, whose inner turmoil not only determines their personalities and actions but also transforms and sometimes destroys the lives of others. Graham was a master storyteller, but his primary contribution to the thriller genre was a series of psychologically credible portraits of men and women whose nightmares have been shared by legions of readers on both sides of the Atlantic.
For his contributions to literature, Graham was named a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1968 and was appointed to the Order of the British Empire in 1983.