Friday 2 May 2014

High Tide by P. M. Hubbard (Macmillan, 1971): First Edition, Book Review

NB: Proffered as part of Friday's Forgotten Books, 2/5/14.

Three years ago, in an unrelated comment on this post on an obscure crime fiction novel, my friend and fellow blogger Book Glutton brought the work of suspense novelist P. M. Hubbard to my attention. Since then (for what it's worth) I've written about Hubbard repeatedly – reviewing novels and showcasing first editions, signed books and even a handwritten letter and some publishing paraphernalia – indeed this very missive constitutes part of a current run of posts on the author; but it's taken me until now to get round to the Hubbard novel Book Glutton highlighted in that comment, the first Hubbard novel he himself read:

High Tide, published in hardback by Macmillan in the UK in 1971, striking dust jacket design by Bush Hollyhead of Nicholas Thirkell Associates (who also designed the wrapper of the Macmillan edition of Hubbard's The Dancing Man that same year). Hubbard's tenth novel, it's the first-person account of one Peter Curtis, recently released from prison after serving four years for manslaughter and now travelling across the south of England, driving by night, sleeping by day, with a hazy eventual aim of buying a boat and making a new life for himself somewhere in the west country. But an encounter with an associate of the man he killed sets him on a different course: to a Cornish coastal town where the testing tides of the estuary lead to a deserted farmhouse, the damaged wife of a local novelist, and a secret that Curtis's opponents are willing to resort to murder to uncover.

High Tide was the second of two Hubbard novels I read in quick succession, the first being The Whisper in the Glen (1972); I'd expected to like High Tide more than The Whisper in the Glen – The Whisper in the Glen being more of a gothic romance than a suspense novel – but I was quite surprised when the opposite turned out to be the case. High Tide is a good book, don't get me wrong, but for me it's missing some of the depth of The Whisper in the Glen. Hubbard's evocation of place – in this case the estuary at the fictional town of Leremouth, with its surging tides and dangerous quicksands – is as strong as ever, and in common with The Whisper in the Glen – and other Hubbard novels – there's a romantic infatuation at the heart of the story which unbalances the narrative in a manner I find fascinating; but the MacGuffin which drives the plot is disappointingly prosaic, and the novel lacks those elements that, in addition to Hubbard's feel for locale, make him such a compelling writer – the pervading sense of doom of The Whisper in the Glen, say, or the persuasively creepy atmosphere of A Thirsty Evil (1974) or A Hive of Glass (1965), the latter with its memorably deranged narrator.

That said, it's also for those reasons that I could see High Tide lending itself well to adaptation – which indeed it did, in 1980 as part of ITV's Armchair Thriller series, with Ian McShane (Lovejoy, Deadwood) as Peter Curtis. Shot entirely on film and on location (unlike a lot of similar British television productions of the era, which utilised video and studio shoots), by most accounts dramatiser Andrew Brown and director Colin Bucksey made a pretty good fist of turning the novel into a four-part television drama; I've half a mind to give it a go (it's available on DVD). And it's in seemingly excellent company as well: the subsequent Armchair Thriller story was a six-part adaptation of Desmond Cory's The Circe Complex (1975), while the first series included a six-part adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's A Dog's Ransom (1972).

A final note on High Tide: in a lull before the novel's climax, Peter Curtis has to spend the night in the abandoned farmhouse with only a choice of two novels for company. One is by the aforementioned local author; the other is a Lemmy Caution novel, written by Peter Cheyney – and by chance it's to Cheyney that I'll be turning in the next-post-but-one. First, though, one last Hubbard book (for the time being): a 1972 hardback edition of perhaps the quintessential Hubbard novel.


  1. When I recommended P.M. Hubbard to you I never dreamed that we would be rewarded with so many excellent posts about his books. Up until fairly recently it was hard to find anything online about Hubbard or his work. But now we have all of this.

    I have a special fondness for High Tide because it was the first Hubbard novel I read but you are correct in your assessment of its flaws. But you are even more spot on in what makes Hubbard so good - evocation of place (which I think as a city dweller I especially respond to) and the romantic infatuation part. And all done in under 200 pages.

    And now that I am a dog owner, I have an even greater liking of Peter Curtis, who was in prison for (unintentionally) killing the man who killed his dog. Love the UK dust jacket, too.

  2. Huh--I may have to give this one a try myself--if I can find it. Did Hubbard's books even get distributed on this side of the pond?

  3. Yes, he was--and I ordered what I think is a first American edition in hardcover, for $1.68 plus shipping on Amazon.

    But man what ugly art on the dust jacket.

  4. BG: Yes, I've littered the web with my witless Hubbard wittering. And it's ALL YOUR FAULT!

    Chris: Post-1960s, Hubbard wasn't terribly well-served by either his UK or US publishers, DJ-wise. Have a look on the EE British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s page for some British examples.

  5. Finished it--definitely an engaging book--personally appealing to me, because of my interest in dogs and birds, and my significant other will add to that her interest in boats when she gets around to it.

    Lacking her familiarity with things nautical, I was sometimes feeling a bit all at sea, if you know what I mean--and I've read the Aubrey/Maturin novels. But the terminology here is rather different.

    It felt like a lot more could have been made out of the components that went into it. But for what it is, it's pretty good.

    Also--much as I admire Ian McShane as an actor, that does not strike me as ideal casting. Who did they cast as Jack--a Jack Russell Terrier? Very talented dogs. But they're not Labradors, are they now?