The House at the Estuary by Andrew MacKenzie, first published in hardback by Ward Lock & Co. in 1948. MacKenzie's debut novel, it's a murder mystery narrated by one Bob Arlen, a wartime intelligence officer tasked with investigating the mysterious suicides of a number of London society folk.
Which, you have to admit, sounds quite intriguing, and having dipped into it it seems to be a lively enough affair, plus it's a scarce book, with just a couple of copies of it currently on AbeBooks, only one of those with a dust jacket – but even so, you'd be forgiven at this point for wondering why on earth I decided to purchase (for eight quid), and then dedicate a post to, such a tatty old tome. I mean, as you can see, the jacket's in a dreadful state – and uncredited too, not that you can see much of the design anyway – while it's a fairly safe bet you've never heard of the author.
Well, two reasons. Firstly, although evidently little-remembered these days, MacKenzie is a writer whose work I'd become interested in prior to finding this book, as a result of these:
A Man from the Past (1958) and The Missile (1959), the final two of the seven books he wrote for British publisher T. V. Boardman in the 1950s. The Bloodhound Mysteries, with their splendid dust jackets designed by Boardman's art director, Denis McLoughlin (who nevertheless managed to misspell MacKenzie's name on The Missile), have been a preoccupation of mine for some time, initially the handful of early Donald E. Westlake novels issued by the publisher, latterly the more espionage-inclined titles (Bryan Peters's The Big H, Christopher Adams's Amateur Agent, etc.). A number of MacKenzie's novels for Boardman, which star sleuth Nicholas Cornish, fall into the espionage camp, which is why I nabbed these two books online last year – the only ones of his Boardman novels I could find with their wrappers. (Both have now joined the other McLoughlin covers in my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery.)
As to the other reason I decided to buy this particular copy of The House at the Estuary:
It's signed and inscribed by MacKenzie, to his "cousin Jim, Gertrude, & all friends at the Halfway House, Rickmansworth with whom I have spent many happy hours".
MacKenzie may be virtually forgotten these days – there's very little information about him online – but he was fairly well-reviewed in his time; the jacket flaps of A Man from the Past and The Missile carry positive notices for his previous books from The Sunday Times and The Star, as well as regionals like the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Sheffield Telegraph:
There's also a backlist in each book, which, along with some other sources, has enabled me, apropos of nothing other than hitherto one hasn't been readily available, to assemble a bibliography – see below – albeit with some information missing; updates to this would be more than welcome.
MacKenzie's final novel was, I believe, Voice from the Cell, published by Robert Hale in 1961, but in 1966 an Andrew MacKenzie published a non-fiction work, The Unexplained: Some Strange Cases of Psychical Research (Arthur Barker), and thereafter published a succession of similarly themed books, including Frontiers of the Unknown (Barker, 1968), The Unexplained (Abelard-Schuman, 1970), Apparitions and Ghosts (Barker, 1971), Riddle of the Future: A Modern Study of Precognition (Barker, 1974), Dracula Country: Travels and Folk Beliefs in Romania (Barker, 1977), Hauntings and Apparitions (Heinemann, 1982) and so forth. Whether this is the same Andrew MacKenzie I don't know, but he continued publishing into the 1990s, his final book being, I believe, Adventures in Time: Encounters with the Past (Continuum/Athlone, 1997). Again, if there's anyone who can confirm or deny they're the same man, I welcome your comments.
Anyway: onwards. And next we're heading to an historic market town and then, once more, to the coast.
Andrew MacKenzie Bibliography
The House at the Estuary (Ward Lock & Co., 1948)
Search in the Dark (Ward, 1948)
Shadows on the River (Ward, 1949)
Splash of Red (Ward, 1949)
Whisper if You Dare! (Ward, 1950)
Point of a Gun (Ward/year unknown)
The Man Who Wanted to Die (Ward, 1951)
Always Fight Back (T. V. Boardman, 1955)
Three Hours to Hang (Boardman, 1955)
A Grave is Waiting (Boardman, 1957)
The Reaching Hand (Boardman, 1957)
Shadow of a Spy (Boardman, 1958)
A Man from the Past (Boardman, 1958)
The Missile (Boardman, 1959)
Voice from the Cell (Robert Hale, 1961)