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.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

P. M. Hubbard's Debut Novel, Flush as May: True First Edition (Michael Joseph, 1963)

Longtime readers of Existential Ennui – of which I have little doubt there are an ever-dwindling number – may experience a distinct sense of déjà vu upon reading the title of this post. After all, it was only a year ago that I blogged about this very book:

The 1963 Michael Joseph first edition of suspense novelist P. M. Hubbard's debut, Flush as May, dust jacket design by Kenneth Farnhill. Except the book I'm showcasing here, as part of a short run of posts on Hubbard, isn't the same one; it's a different copy, for sure, but more importantly from a book collecting perspective – which is why we – which is to say me – are gathered here today – it's a different printing. The copy of the Joseph edition of Flush of May I showcased and reviewed in, appropriately enough, May of 2013 – having won it on eBay after a fierce tussle with fellow Hubbard enthusiast John from Pretty Sinister Books – was the second impression, printed in April 1963, three months on from the first impression:

And it was ex-library to boot – note the hole punch stamp identifying the Cambridge Union Society library on the left hand side of the indicia page. Even so, I was jolly pleased to get my hands on it because it was, and remains, a very scarce edition: at present I can see just one copy listed for sale online, and I'm pretty sure that's a 'phantom' listing, i.e. a book listed by an Amazon Marketplace seller, or more accurately drop-shipper – in this case the ubiquitous southend-books-and-dvds – which runs software that identifies empty or nearly-empty Amazon catalogue pages and lists those books with the intention of purchasing another seller's copy to supply to any potential customer. Which is all well and good, except that when there's no other seller with a copy of the book, as seems to be the case with the Joseph edition of Flush of May, one wonders how that drop-shipper hopes to fulfil that order.

Anyway, I've drifted off the point, which is that having won that second impression on eBay a year ago, six months later another copy of the first edition popped up online, this time on AbeBooks; and after making some enquiries I established that it was a first impression and promptly snapped it up (it does have an inch-long tear in its dust jacket, but as it's in otherwise lovely condition, I can live with that). As is frequently the case with impressions of editions, the differences between the two printings are relatively minor. As one would expect, the indicia page of the first printing makes no mention of impression:

Nor indeed month of publication, while on the dust jacket front flap, there's a precis of the plot as opposed to the second impression's review snippets:

Still, even though to the untrained eye the two impressions are virtually identical, it's nice to own a true first edition of the debut novel by Hubbard, a writer I'm becoming increasingly enamoured of the further into his backlist I venture. Take, for instance, the next Hubbard book I'll be blogging about...