Thus far in this periodic series of posts on signed books I've showcased signed and sometimes inscribed paperbacks and hardbacks by Elmore Leonard, Jack Gerson, Kate Atkinson and P. M. Hubbard. But I've plenty more hitherto-unseen-on-Existential-Ennui signed books in my collection, and I'll be unveiling some of the more intriguing and even exciting signed and/or inscribed ones over the coming weeks. Like, for instance, this one:
A British first edition of Dark Hero by Peter Cheyney, published in hardback by Collins in 1946, dust jacket design uncredited. Cheyney is best known for his hard-boiled crime fiction, especially his Lemmy Caution novels, but he also penned a good number of espionage works, Dark Hero being one of them – the fifth instalment in his eight-book "Dark" series of spy novels, which began in 1942 with Dark Duet and ended in 1950 with Dark Bahama, and which all feature to some degree master spy Peter Quayle. Although this one is more the story of Rene Berg, one-time Chicago gunman-turned-scourge of the Nazis-turned-secret agent – shades there in Berg's origin of Desmond Cory's later secret agent, Johnny Fedora.
Dark Hero is relatively common in first – indeed there's a copy of the first edition up the road from where I'm sitting right now, in Lewes's Bow Windows Bookshop (as in, the book's in Bow Windows Bookshop; I'm not in Bow Windows Bookshop, although I suppose I could be, depending on when this post is being read – I do pop in there on occasion) – but much less common is this particular edition of the first edition. See, by 1946 Peter Cheyney had been with his British publisher, Collins, for ten years (his debut novel – also Lemmy Caution's debut – was 1936's This Man is Dangerous), and had sold millions of books for them. To celebrate both the tenth anniversary of this highly successful publishing partnership and to mark the publication of this, Cheyney's twenty-fifth novel, Collins produced a special edition of Dark Hero, limited to 250 copies, each one numbered on a limitation page opposite a photo of Cheyney (looking very dapper), and presented them to the author for him to sign and dedicate to whomsoever he chose.
This copy is number 133, and was inscribed to a C. R. Bl— ...actually I can't work out that surname – suggestions in the comments please. Anyway, whoever, C. R. Bl— was, Peter Cheyney evidently felt he – or she – merited a copy of the special edition of Dark Hero in 1946 – and for my part I felt I merited that same copy when I nabbed it on eBay some sixty-five or so years later for £8.50 – a frankly ludicrously low price when one considers that there are only about five copies available online at present, the cheapest being £75 and the most expensive being over £250.
A nice, rare book to own, then. But it's not the only Peter Cheyney book in my possession – because I've been quietly collecting the "Dark" Series especially over the past few years, as I'll be demonstrating in the next post.