Wednesday 6 August 2014

The Spy Novels of Simon Harvester: Bibliography; Dragon Road (Jarrolds, 1956), Malcom Kenton Series #2, Signed First Edition

I'm not sure how the name Simon Harvester popped up on my spy fiction radar. An alias of the prolific writer Henry St. John Clair Rumbold-Gibbs (29 June, 1909–26 April 1975; he also wrote general, travel and military fiction under the name Henry Gibbs and according to this source romance novels as Elizabeth Ford, although I suspect some confusion has crept in there; Ford was an alias of Marjory – some sources have it as Marjorie – Elizabeth Sarah Bidwell, who I believe also wrote as Mary Ann Gibbs), Harvester penned forty-five novels, the majority of them crime and spy thrillers, from 1942–1976; a complete Harvester bibliography – at least as complete as I can make it – can be found at the bottom of this post (the first time, to my knowledge, one has been made available online).

It was the twelve "Road" novels he published from 1960–1976, featuring British Intelligence operative Dorian Silk, which initially piqued my curiosity – more on those shortly – but once I'd had a shufti on Randall Masteller's Spy Guys & Gals site I realised Harvester had penned other espionage series prior to those, notably five books from 1955–1957 starring engineer Malcolm Kenton: The Bamboo Screen (Jarrolds, 1955), The Paradise Men (Jarrolds, 1956), The Golden Fear (Jarrolds, 1957), The Copper Butterfly (Jarrolds, 1957), and the second instalment:

Dragon Road, published by Jarrolds in 1956 under a dust jacket designed by Henry Fox (thanks to Jamie Sturgeon for helping me identify the designer and pointing me in the direction of Steve Holland's post on Fox; I've added the wrapper to the Existential Ennui Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page). I had a particular reason for acquiring this copy of the novel – which like a lot of Harvesters is quite uncommon in first (although less so in paperback; Andrew Nette has a Harvester paperback or four at Pulp Curry, including Dragon Road) – which is this:

It's signed and inscribed by Harvester on the title page, to a Leonard Tucker, "In exchange for an excellent cup of coffee." There are fewer than half a dozen signed Harvester books available online at present, most of those being US editions; only one is a British first, signed on a bookplate rather than on the page and going for £150, so a signed and inscribed British first edition, especially one I only paid a tenner for, is, I reckon, a bit of a find.

The dust jacket flaps are worth spending a moment or two on – click on the image to see them larger – for the unexpected wit and style the copywriter – I wouldn't be surprised if it were Harvester himself – brings to proceedings. The first paragraph, on Harvester and his oeuvre, is splendid enough ("...poor Mata Hari! The rut she carved!"; "...intelligence agents... are ordinary fallible human beings, even when chasing 'the secret plans.' Those 'secret plans'!") but the subsequent paragraph, on the novel itself, is even better:

Dragon Road, the latest Harvester – incidentally his 21st novel – is set in Thailand and Burma. It involves the regrettable Malcolm Kenton. Mr. Kenton, you will remember from The Bamboo Screen, is a British engineer. You also remember that Mr. Kenton is a dipsomaniac and has been in gaol? Some Chinese dislike him for other reasons. In Bangkok, mildly relaxing among Budhhist Wats and sampans on the klongs, surrounded by refugees, tourists, trouble-makers, and monks, Kenton and his delightful Eurasian secretary Mei-ling are warned not to fly to Calcutta. There is a persistent and fascinating Chinese woman, an equally persistent and fascinating schoolteacher from Texas, businessmen, the engaging Carnation Pink, and a murderous oozie. Through ruined temples, teak forests, jungle, and the rains, Kenton tries to reach the Dragon Road from Mandalay to the Chinese frontier with its dacoits and snakes... All in all, we think this is Harvester's most urbane and eventful and witty novel of excitement. Like other recent visitors to Burma, Mr. Kenton is impulsive and energetic and outspoken.

No idea what an "oozie" is but that's some of the best jacket flap copy I've ever read.

In his appraisal of the Dorian Silk novels Randall Masteller makes note of the fact that the first instance of Harvester using "Road" in a book title comes with this novel, not the Silks (all twelve of which have "Road" in their titles). He does point out, however, that Malcolm Kenton and Dorian Silk are "quite different" characters, as we'll discover in the next post.

Simon Harvester Bibliography

Let Them Prey (Rich & Cowan, 1942)
Epitaph for Lemmings (Rich & Cowan, 1943)
Maybe a Trumpet (Rich & Cowan, 1945)
A Lantern for Diogenes (Rich & Cowan, 1946)
Whatsoever Things Are True (Rich & Cowan, 1947)
The Sequins Lost Their Lustre (Rich & Cowan, 1948)
(with Cyril Campion) Man About Town, Introducing "Shorty" the Taxi-Driver (Rich & Cowan, 1948)
Good Men and True: A Study in Crime (Rich & Cowan, 1949)
A Breastplate for Aaron (Rich & Cowan, 1949)
Sheep May Safely Graze: A Mark Blunden Story (Rich & Cowan, 1950)
Obols for Charon: A Mark Blunden Story (Jarrolds, 1951)
Witch Hunt (Jarrolds, 1951)
The Vessel May Carry Explosives (Jarrolds, 1951)
Cat's Cradle (Jarrolds, 1952)
Traitor's Gate (Jarrolds, 1952)
Arrival in Suspicion (Jarrolds, 1953)
Spiders' Web (Jarrolds, 1953)
Lucifer at Sunset (Jarrolds, 1953)
Delay in Danger (Jarrolds, 1954)
The Bamboo Screen (Jarrolds, 1955)
Dragon Road (Jarrolds, 1956)
The Paradise Men (Jarrolds, 1956)
The Golden Fear (Jarrolds, 1957)
The Copper Butterfly (Jarrolds, 1957)
The Golden Fear (Jarrolds, 1957)
The Yesterday Walkers (Jarrolds, 1958)
An Hour Before Zero (Jarrolds, 1959)
The Chinese Hammer (Jarrolds, 1960)
Unsung Road (Jarrolds, 1960)
Moonstone Jungle (Jarrolds, 1961)
Silk Road (Jarrolds, 1962)
Troika (Jarrolds, 1962)
Red Road (Jarrolds, 1963)
Assassins Road (Jarrolds, 1965)
Shadows in a Hidden Land (Jarrolds, 1966)
Treacherous Road (Jarrolds, 1966)
Battle Road (Jarrolds, 1967)
Zion Road (Jarrolds, 1968)
Nameless Road (Jarrolds, 1969)
Moscow Road (Jarrolds, 1970)
Sahara Road (Jarrolds, 1972)
A Corner of the Playground (Jarrolds, 1973)
Forgotten Road (Hutchinson, 1974)
Tiger in the North (Hutchinson, 1974)
Siberian Road (Hutchinson, 1976)


  1. Could "oozie" by a typo? Maybe the writer meant "floozie"? I've never come across the word "oozie" but it sure sounds like British slang for a promiscuous woman.

  2. An oozie is a Burmese elephant rider. (I looked it up!) You're right, the jacket copy is—shall I say it?—a doozie!

    1. Oh, and here I thought it was an alternate spelling for "Aussie"!

  3. Aha! Thank you Kelly! I must admit was leaning towards John's theory, so it's nice to know the truth of the matter.