They were based in Dundee and wanted Goodchild to write a short detective story to appear in The Dundee Weekly News every Saturday. The Thomson publications tended to favour their native land and it is reasonable to assume that they wished their new series to feature a detective with a good, solid Scottish name, even though he had to be based in London.
The books comprising a collection of short stories were taken from the weekly short stories that Goodchild wrote for D.C. Thomson from approximately 1927 to 1962. The short story collections have a different style to the full-length novels and are far closer to some of the excellent writers of early police procedurals, such as Freeman Wills Crofts and George Bellairs. Some of the stories rely too heavily on coincidence but others are interesting and cleverly plotted. Some stories are straightforward while others have a trickier twist, but again, Goodchild has a distinctive style, with a clear narration and endings which cut out all unnecessary detail and wind up the case with a confirmation of guilt, occasionally by confession and frequently by forensic evidence. The story is often tied up with a few simple words: ‘Later investigations proved McLean to be correct.’... ‘It was enough to make the case a very easy one when it was tried.’ (Follow McLean, 1961.) ‘Later his fingerprints were taken, and the tell-tale piece of Elastoplast sealed his fate.’ (McLean Disposes, 1958.)
Often, when we are reading early 20th century books from our perspective in the 21st Century, I think we are inclined to forget how exciting and new some of the ideas and approaches were in the Golden Age of Detection. Goodchild was a remarkably prolific author, turning out a story every week in three days and also writing about four books a year. He gave his publishers and the public what they required, an interesting, fast-paced story, and, as with other, better remembered authors, not all of his books have stood the test of time. However, in his crime and thriller novels, Goodchild could be very unexpected and twisted the conventions in clever ways. In Safety Last (1944), his stand-alone crime thriller set in the Second World War, the hero does prevail and get the girl, only not necessarily the girl that the readers expected him to get at the start of the book. Even more interesting, in Yes, Inspector McLean (1934) he paints a picture of a Chinese man of wealth and power who is both civilised and generous, although his beliefs and way of life are very different from the conventional British ideas of the time. The books of Sax Rohmer, describing the machinations of the evil Chinese villain Fu Manchu, had scarred the English and American perceptions of the Chinese and had fuelled the fear of the Yellow Peril that was prevalent at the time. This contributed to the literary cliche that all Chinese people were villains who lured the innocent to opium dens. In 1929, when Ronald Knox wrote his ten rules for detective fiction, The Ten Commandments, rule number five stated that ‘No Chinaman must figure in the story.’ Five years later, Goodchild not only ignored this command but made an honourable Chinaman central to the story, and his character and beliefs the central cog upon which the whole plot turned. This demonstrates the author’s interest in other cultures and his independent and original turn of mind.
I’d like to express my gratitude to many people for help with this article. First of all, the lovely Hannah Dennison for suggesting Goodchild as the subject for an article after she had met Goodchild’s daughter, Diana. Even greater thanks to Diana and her daughter Sandra for information that brought Goodchild alive to me and set me straight about several facts. Thanks to my good friend Peter Lovesey, who provided me with an article by Philip L.Scowcroft and reviews by Ian H. Godden and William A.S. Sarjeant, and also a photograph of Goodchild and brief advertising post for his story Colorado Jim from The Sunday Post, 8th August 1920. My gratitude also to Geoff Bradley of CADS, who also provided me with the Scowcroft and Godden writings. Of course, thanks to Scowcroft, Godden and Sarjeant, the information in their articles and reviews added new dimensions to the jigsaw puzzle I was trying to put together to get a picture of Goodchild’s work.
Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.
The Terminal Velocity of Cats the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.