And other British Suspense Novels by Geoffrey Household
Geoffrey Edward West Household (30 November 1900 - 4 October 1988)
Tells much better stories than John Buchan, though somewhat disorganized, especially in the less-than-memorable way that characters are introduced early and reappear later. Best known for the bestseller Rogue Male, the inspiration for a few movies and plays.
The Third Hour
1938 . UW Library 823 H816t
Manuel Vargas (from Valadodid Spain) goes to university in London, sells fruit to WW1 Germany, marries in Argentina (losing wife and son in childbirth), mines nitrates in Chile, is a bookkeeper for a print shop in Lima Peru, a journalist in Costa Rica, a waiter and maitre d'hotel in Guatemala, then went to Tapachula Mexico in 1923, where he is drafted into the Mexican Army (as a captain) by General Lara, who later joins forces with the revolution.
Vargas "El Camarero" (the waiter) helps Lara destroy a heavily guarded train through the mountains near Durango by derailing a center car and pulling the next few cars over a precipice, sending the last cars (with insufficient brakes) accelerating backwards and also over the edge. Vargas learns the train was carrying 300,000 gold pesos, and convinces Lara to escape retribution while Vargas leaves, supposedly to cut the phone wires. Instead, he steals the 1065 pounds gold (2019 price $23M) and hides it in the hills, planning to return for it later. He escapes Mexico as a stowaway, never to return.
The middle portion of the book intoduces us to Albert Whitehead, Simon Bendrihem, and Toby Manning, associated with the Hanson and Crane toy company. Manning is sent to recruit sales agents in Northern and Eastern Europe, meets with friend Mark Ottery, and continues to Bucharest where he recruits Russian Gregory Vassilieff. Vassilieff and Manning are attacked by fascist Iron Guard thugs, and chases them away with a hypodermic allegedly filled with rabies (actually beer).
Manning continues his recruiting tour in Valparaiso, makes friends with waiter Vargas, and they form a pact to create an abbey for "the noble" Europeans, funded by the gold. Manning meets old flame Countess Irma von Richensund (formerly the impoverished Irma von Karlskreuz of Austria), in Mexico to gather support for the Nazis. Manning recruits her to help recover the gold, rekindles their romance, and successfully smuggles the gold through Mexico and the US to Britain, where Bendrihem arranges for its sale, netting ₤108,336 plus 5% commission for the sale. With Bendrihem's and Vassilieff and Irma's assets, they gather ₤160K (₤10M in 2019 pounds) for their planned community in the Basque region of Spain.
The novel ends with a seder by Bendrihem's mother, with seven candles representing them all ... including Irma.
1939, New York Review Books, with a 2007 introduction by Victoria Nelson. Own.
An unnamed British hunter lines up his rifle on an unnamed dictator (Hitler) and is captured, tortured, and left for dead. The novel describes his escape, evading the dictator's extensive spy network with woodcraft and cunning. In the same genre as John Buchan's Thirty Nine Steps and four other novels about Richard Hanney. Household's book is less jingoistic and more psychological - a better story IMHO.
1950 Atlantic / Little Brown, Multnomah County Central Library, Fiction.
Anarchist attempts to destroy the world in order to destroy the state! This book was published 7 years before "Atlas Shrugged" and is a strange mirror of it. These anarchists are wounded by war, and 200 of them gather in Kasr-el-Sittat, an isolated, repurposed monastery in the hills of Lebanon. The Secretariat runs the colony with a light hand, but controls a network of provocateurs, who create "conservative" discord in the west, for which they are paid by both the conservatives and the Soviets. Their tame scientist, Urgin, creates a psycho-agent that acts like truth serum, and the Secretariat's plan is to dose diplomats at a UN meeting, to create discord and war. Sounds silly, but that is a thread to hang the real message of the story.
Household's protagonist Amberson is a decent man, a post-war magistrate in Devon who is censured for not punishing some locals who ignored bureaucracy. He abandons his State-damaged home for Lebanon, where the government is arbitrary but disorganized. He falls in love with Elisa, who is the power behind Kasr-el-Sittat, and plotting the destruction of the world's governments. He is witness to the battle between light and darkness, love and hate, with hate represented by Elisa and her Secretariat of angry men, and Anton, the wandering holy man, who offers love and personal passive resistance as an alternative to the omnipotent State.
As a background figure who shares simple but powerful koans, Anton's love wins. Gently. Not as a Gandhian leader, but as a friendly reminder to the people of Kasr-el-Sittat that love is powerful. I can imagine Household being inspired to write this by Gandhi's assassination in 1948.
This is a powerful book. It is weird - like Neville Shute, Household's fiction has absurdities, but those are forgivable for the splendid bon mots and the internal personal conflicts of everyman hero Amberson, who, like all of us, stumbles towards the light.
Page numbers from first edition
- protagonist Eric Amberson, Devon ex-pat, farm equipment importer in El Mina, Tripoli, Lebanon
- servant Boulos
- Ashkar, Captain of Sytian Gendarmerie
- Oliver Poss, expat British trader/smuggler
- Kasr-el-Sittat, anarchist community
- Runs "World Opposition" movement, funded by American conservatives
- also funded by Soviets to sew discord in the west
- Elisa Cantemir, Bulkovina, wealthy founder and Amberson's lover
- Lois Tassen
- Eugen Rosa, courier
- Czoldy, UN Staff
- Juan Villaneda, from Spanish Morocco
- Osterling, ... Gisorius, ...
- Anton Tabas, wandering sage, Sergeant Phil Grynes, sidekick
- Urgin, biochemist
- p79 "I do not think he considered men who fought for land or any material posession more blameworthy than the rest of us; he simply meant they were as unapproachable, as spiritually dead as mad dogs."
Me: In Israel/Palestine, they fight to the death over who gets to be buried there second.
- p81 "... no one can hate until he can pity."
- p101 "All scientists hae a strong tendency to Marxism, for they know perfectly well that every discovery they make is a potential menace. Therefore they cling to a childish belief in planning. Daddy Planing will be able to mend it. ... give 'em the toys and the money they want, and they're as easy as soldiers for the intelligent man to manage!"
- p230 "...among men who claim to server their fellows, learn to distinguish those who love from those who wish to lead."
1955 . Own a copy, perhaps my favorite
Against The Wind
1959, Little Brown and Company. PSU Library PR6015.07884 Z54
Autobiography of Household (1900-1988), 2/3 of the way though his life, 1/3 of the way though his writing career, which took off with Rogue Male and restarted after the 1939-1944 war. Three sections, Traveller (sales), Soldier (army intelligence), Craftsman (writing). The first section is interesting, but has way too many diversions into the droll phrase rather than the descriptive one - distracting. I'm amused that before the war, Household helped sell more printing ink than was ever used to print his books after; Household may have been a competent salesman, but not a curious one. He writes of many quick befriendings of foreigners. Writing being a lonely profession (and he illustrates that), this seems contradictory - perhaps he chose to disappear behind the safety of a typewriter. Hard to say - I would like to read a biography by an observer rather than the subject, and compare notes.
Things to Love
1963 on the way? from Biblio
- not read yet
1965 on the way? from Biblio
- not read yet
The Courtesy of Death
1967, Bantam, own
- not read yet
1971, Little Brown and Company. PSU Library PR6015.07885 D6
Novel about counterintelligence in Palestine and Lebanon in 1942, drawn from authors time doing just that.
UN Unnamed narrator
- p04 I(b) branch of the general staff responsible for counterespionage.
- p04 Captain Oliver Enwin, British interpreter and translator, assistant defense security officer (A.D.S.O.) Nazareth, goes missing
- p66 Youssef Mokkaddem - Iraqi
- p166 Brother Aloysius - Irish
- p236 Ibrahim el Amr - refugee from Sumatra - Marries Valerie, professor of Oriental languages, Adana Turkey
- p07 Jeremy Fanshawe, chief of military intelligence in Palestine
- p08 Boutany, Enwin's Lebanese Christian civilian clerk
- p11 staff: Seargent Major Limpsfield
- p12 staff" Corporal Zappa
- p24 January 1942 Move to Tipoli, Lebanon
- p25 9th Army and Australian Corps
- p25 Lance Corporal Holloway "illiterate reports"
- p27 Captain Magnat of the Deuxieme Bureau - staunch left-wing, republican atheist
- p28 Blaise d'Aulnoy colonial administrator loyal to Vichy, retirement estate north of village of Sir
- loaned to Mrs. Biddy Ronson-Bolbec and daughter Valerie (p33), servant Ahmed.
- p38 Bridle path to Hermel
- p51 Brigadier Reggie Paunce
- p54 gendarme Lieutenant Khalid, horse roan with a stat(?)
- p63 staff: Seargent Wilson, Corporal Flowers
- p66 Rashid Ali's rebellion, works with Germans
p78 Khalid attacks UN, who kills him with .45 service revolver p107 Vichy agent
- p192 "in Cairo hospital recoverint from head wound, now interrogated by Security Intelligence Middle East"
- p85 staff: Corporal Davila
- p93 Moustofi Khan, Persian (friend of Ahmed)
- p130 German companions, "Colonel" and "Hadji" (Yellow Socks)
- p96 Abdullah El Bessam (Fatty), age 51, banker, grain speculator, "homosexual" child abuser
- p119 staff: Lance Corporal Gunn
- p149 Captain Johns, commander 64th Indian Mule Company (Urdu Havildars)
- p150 tulwar, short broad bladed saber
- p187 Ras Shaqqa tunnel, "exploder" = fuse?, explosives to farmhouse on path
p204 UN captured, prisoner in basement, p211 quarry room behind stables, p215 caravan to farmhouse on path
- p224 Ahmed beheaded, exposives in farmhouse set off, six chests of currency captured, 14,000 pounds
- p229 "riding pillion" the seat behind the driver of a motorcycle
The Lives and Times of Bernardo Brown
1973 (purchased, arriving soon)
- not read yet
1975 PSU Library PR6015.O7885 R4
The book starts with a letter from Eudora Hillard to the storyteller and main protagonist Adrian Gurney, and introduces us to the plight of her nephew Alwyn Rory, implicated in the defection of Lieutenant xxx Mornix to Russia, carrying naval secrets. Rory is framed by the KGB to make it look like he was paid ₤2000 to help.
Gurney was born in Wiltshire of a Romanian mother and British father. After his father was killed in a farming accident, his mother returned to Romania and remarried a geologist, who took his 19yo son to Cairo, where Adrian gets a British passport and eventually moves to Caulby (fictional) in the Midlands, working for Councillor Herbert Sokes, a manufacturer ... and a corrupt philanderer, who attempts to corrupt Gurney, who escapes, pretends suicide, then pretends to be Romanian clerk Ionel Petrescu, swimming ashore from the Russian Baltic fleet, and defecting.
Romanian "Margholoman" pays Petrescu ₤50 to deliver a message about Alwyn Rory (supposedly in Moscow) to Mrs. Hillard at her house "Cleder's Priory" in the fictional Molesworthy a 3 hours walk from Totnes, South Devon. He pretends to be Mr. Prefacutu. Offering a place for the night, she decides he is an MI5 agent and locks him a room. They become friends, and he becomes her butler "Willie". The house has a chart of the Kingsbridge Estuary "ten miles away", where it turns out that Alwyn is hiding in an abandoned boat. We are soon introduced to Hillard's daughter (and Alwyn's cousin) Tessa.
Adventures and intrigue ensue, culminating in a chase by CIA and KGB agents near the Wansdyke Earthwork near Avebury. Alwyn attacks and kills a KGB agent to take his silenced weapon, shoots another KGB agent, and is shot by a third, launching a gun battle with the CIA agents, two of whom are killed by the KGB, while Gurney/Willie/Petrescu slips away.
Hostage London: The Diary of Julian Despard
1977 Penguin, own
- not read yet
The Last Two Weeks of Georges Rivac
1978 Penguin, own two copies oops
- not read yet
1980 Penguin, own
- not read yet
Summon the Bright Water
1981 Atlantic / Little Brown. PSU Library PR6015.07885 S9
Another brave adventurer hiding-in-the-English-woods, and in the Severn River. The hero is "economic archeologist" Piers Colet, the love interest Elsa, the bad guy her uncle Simeon Marrin, who finds a cache of gold in an underwater cave and finances a cult community, Broom Lodge, in the Forest Of Dean between Cinderford and Lydney. A strange concoction of caves, stalking, diving, and theft, with facts twisted or created to support a bizarre plot. Our protagonist kills Marrin, and later the chief acolyte, oh gosh I'm so sorry. Feh.
The spoiler: Atlantis was real, on the shore of the Atlantic ocean during the ice age, now submerged by higher sea levels. Atlantis had a lot of cheap gold, and left some as part of an ancient trading expedition. And our protagonist waives all professional responsibility by grabbing the gold, destroying the precious archeological site, and donating half the gold to the cult community, keeping the other half, and melting it all down. Feh again. But I suppose not bad for an 80 year old author a few years before the Final Edit.
1982, Penguin Paperback, purchased at Powells.
No story connection to Rogue Male.
On page 185, we learn that our protagonist is Raymond Ingleram, who I will call RI. British father Ralph, Austrian mother.
- Saul Harding, London Solicitor.
- von Lauen (AKA Major Quive-Smith of UK) (AKA Don Ernesto Menendez Peraza of Nicaragua)
German agent killed by RI in the first book, Don Ernesto passport used by RI.
p10 Hauptmann Hasse, Sicherheitsdienst (SD) killed in Rostock bombing, identity assumed by RI.
p66 Moshe Shapir, Jewish escapee who travels with RI.
pXX Cantescu, Romanian escapee who travels with RI.
- p68 Casimir, Polish guerilla leader
- pXX Voevod, guerilla leader in the Carpathians
- p96 RI's murdered wife, "daughter of Prince Euersperg and Jewess"
- p118 Domenitza
- p119 Kurtbek, general Turkish Ordnance
- p172 Dionysius, Greek companion
April 1942, RI is in Rostock prison in Nazi Germany awaiting interrogation by Hasse. He spent the prior three years pretending to be fascist Nicaraguan Don Ernesto, hoping to get close to Hitler in order to assassinate him. He was identified as an impostor by von Lauen's widow, escapes through Copenhagen and Sweden, but is refused by the British embassy and sent back to Copenhagen and capture.
The novel describes his escape. He frees and collaborates with 4 prisoners being transported to Auschwitz. He travels through Cracow Poland, Dukla Pass Slovakia, Sighet and Bucharest Romania, Istanbul Turkey, and Greece. With a German passport of Ludwig Weber, he captures a plane flying him, his guards, and General Kurtbek to Salonica Greece, diverts to the plain of Aliakmon on the way to Thessalonika. (p138) fights the German garrison in Kozani Greece, Yannina in western Greece, then joins the Italians and a oil tanker to Benghazi. (p181) tanker torpedoed by British destroyer. (p198) "killed 18 enemies". (p200) Ship from Suez, escapes at Mombasa Kenya. (p204) Ruzizi River, Belgian nunnery in Burundi as Bill Smith. (p206) end, killed by attacking lion.
Arrows of Desire
1985 UW Library PR6015 07885 A77
Post-apocalypse Britain, about Britishness, not characters. I slogged through 46 pages, and won't read the next 100.
Face to the Sun
1988 UW Library PR6015 07885 F32
- Edmond Hawkins (named on page 37) narrator, steals a purse for food money, finds immensely valuable jewelry
- Republic of Malpelo - vaguely Equador
General Cayetano Heredia, actress wife Juana Romero, daughter Carlotta, son-in-law Sir Hector McMurtrie
- Punchao del Dia (sacred Moment of Daybreak), necklace/medal - sacred
- Los Retadores, Felipe Montes (named pg34) Teresa (named pg35)
- revolution, armies, escape, hiding
- Spoiler: Heredia humiliated, Carlotta becomes president, Teresa marries Hawkins'
- Great Stories of Mystery and Suspense
- The Best War Stories
- The Salvation of Pisco Gabar and Other Stories (1938)
- Tales of Adventurers (1952)
- The Brides of Solomon and Other Stories (1958)
- Sabres on the Sand (1966)
- The Europe That Was (1979)
- Capricorn and Cancer (1981)
- The Cats to Come (1975) (novella)
- The Terror of Villadonga aka The Spanish Cave (1936)
- The Exploits of Xenophon aka Xenophon's Adventure (1955)
- Escape into Daylight (1976)
- Prisoner of the Indies (1967)
- Things to Love (1963) - Biblio -
- Olura (1965) - Biblio -