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Wednesday 2 May 2018

George Goodchild (1888-1969)

The  Golden Age
by Carol Westron

George Goodchild was born in Kingston upon Thames in Surrey. His father was a lithographer, working for a firm that made engravings from original works of art.

Goodchild started his career in publishing, working in turn for Dent, Jarrold and Sons and Allen and Unwin. He was soon editing volumes of poetry and anthologies and writing short stories and articles for magazines. He was also a music critic for Outlook and Saturday Review. In 1913 he married Dora Hill and they had one son and two daughters.

During the First World War, shocked by the indiscriminate bombing of London by the German Zeppelins, he volunteered to join the Royal Garrison Artillery and took part in the Battle of the Somme. Goodchild’s daughter, Diana, explained about his swift rise through the ranks: ‘The casualty lists were appalling so promotion was rapid. From a raw recruit he obtained a commission and became a Lieutenant/Acting Captain in a few months.’ In the autumn of 1916 he was wounded, shell-shocked and gassed and was repatriated to England. Following his experiences in the Royal Artillery, Goodchild wrote Behind the Barrage: the story of a Siege Battery, which was published by Jarrold in 1918, before the end of the Great War. This autobiography is out of print and not available but an Amazon review of the book quotes part of the preface, which shows that Goodchild was a shrewd observer of politics and an accurate prophet of the future. “But does any sane man believe that anything in the world can prevent the Germans from making war in ten or twenty years’ time - more ghastly than human mind is at present able to conceive.”
As part of his work for the publishers Jarrold and Sons and Allen and Unwin, Goodchild was involved in editing many anthologies, such as England, My England, a war anthology (1914); The Blinded Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Gift Book (1915); Battle Poems and Patriotic Verses (1915); Made in the Trenches, articles and sketches from soldiers [with Sir Frederick Treves](1916). In 1917 Goodchild wrote The Last Cruise of the Majestic, a non-fiction account of the ill-fated action in the Dardanelles, based on the log-books of John George Cowie, who was part of the crew of the Majestic. These books have been reprinted, having been copied from the originals, and are currently available.

During a writing career that lasted for over sixty years, Goodchild had four pseudonyms, Alan Dare, Wallace Q. Reid, Jesse Templeton and Manda McGrath (as might be guessed, he used the last pseudonym for his romantic novels), but the majority of his work was written under his own name. He wrote over two hundred works of fiction in several genres, including romance, adventure, westerns, spy stories, adventure stories for boys and detective stories. He edited and contributed to many anthologies and he wrote and directed six films based on his books. He also contributed to the Daily Mail, The Saturday Review, Everyman, Answers and other periodicals. When one considers Goodchild’s overall output, approximately 50% of it was crime fiction, although often veering towards thrillers rather than straight detective stories. Approximately 35% of his work featured Inspector McLean. He wrote the McLean books under his own name and these were over-all his most successful books.

Biographical information about Goodchild is not easy to come by but again Goodchild’s daughter has come to my aid. ‘Father’s interests included golf, tennis, archery, chess, foreign travel, music, crossword puzzles and heavy books on science, philosophy, astronomy, Egyptology, archaeology etc. In fact, he was interested in everything.’ I had read an article that stated that Goodchild was also interested in Spiritualism and fishing, but Diana assured me that ‘Spiritualism was only a passing early interest, and fishing was confined to seaside mackerelling trips. But he loved his tame fish in our large garden pond!’
Goodchild wrote a large number of Westerns set in America and adventure and romance stories set in Canada and America. When I asked Diana about the background to this, she was amused and assured me that her father had never visited either Canada or the USA. Apparently, he had gleaned his information from factual travel books and the Encyclopedia Britannica. In this, Goodchild was in good company, for John Creasey had written several Westerns before he actually visited America.

Unfortunately, none of Goodchild’s novels are currently in print, although it is possible to obtain them second-hand at reasonable prices and some UK libraries have in their stores some large print novels and some of those republished by Black Dagger Crime. I managed to order six McLean books and one stand-alone crime thriller, which is only a small sample of Goodchild’s out-put but enough to give me a flavour of the character and the style of the books.

Goodchild’s McLean of Scotland Yard was published in 1929 by Hodder & Stoughton and was the first of sixty-two books featuring McLean, written and published over the next thirty-eight years and culminating with McLean Knows the Answers in 1967.  The name McLean was suggested to Goodchild by the publishers D.C. Thomson.

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. 

Goodchild’s first five McLean books, published by Hodder & Stoughton, feature McLean’s name (McLean of Scotland Yard, 1929; McLean at the Golden Owl, 1930; McLean Investigates, 1930; How Now, McLean?, 1931; Chief Inspector McLean, 1932.) I was fascinated to note that four of the books published in 1933 by D.C. Thomson ‘rebrand’ him as Dandy McLean (12 Dandy McLean Detective Stories; Dandy Against the Gangsters; Dandy Hangs Behind; Dandy Nabs the Falcon.) In the books I have read, McLean is portrayed as athletic, highly intelligent and usually smartly dressed, as befits a man in his official position, but he is certainly not obsessed with his clothes or worried about getting them dirty or damaged. The name Dandy in the title does not appear after 1933. I asked Diana about this and was told that it was the people at D.C. Thomson ‘who christened him Dandy McLean. We, in the family, all thought it was an absolutely awful name and made a great joke out of it at Father’s expense! Father thought the same, but he was a kind man and didn’t want to upset anyone. He never used the name himself and after 1933 it was dropped.’ 

The McLean books fall into three categories: the full length novel tracking one criminal, although often investigating many crimes committed or instigated by the villain; the novel where there is one main thread of investigation, but other, unrelated crimes are investigated as well; the book consisting of short stories and linked only by the investigating officer.  Goodchild is a remarkably versatile writer and it is fascinating to see the different techniques he uses according to the style of book he is writing, even though in the McLean books, the central character remains constant and Goodchild always writes in a Third Person omnipotent point of view. 

The full-length novels that investigate one criminal or criminal gang may start with McLean being aware of the links to the criminal mastermind from the beginning of the investigation, as in The Triumph of McLean (1933), or being led to discovery of the gang by investigating an unexplained death, as in Double Acrostic (1954.) In these novels there is often a love affair, which is an integral part of the plot, and the narrative goes into several characters’ points of view. The novels vary in style. The Triumph of McLean (1933) is more an adventure story than a detective novel. Although two murders happen in the first chapter, the main thrust of the investigation is to identify and locate the super-villain behind many crimes, and the story is filled with gun battles, cunning disguises, exotic locations, a beautiful woman who may be a heroine or in league with the villain, and the hero placed in peril of his life. One of the other full-length McLean novels I have read, Double Acrostic (1954) is half detective story and half adventure yarn. Yes, Inspector McLean (1934) is more of a detective story, although a far from traditional one. 

Like other adventure and crime writers of the time, Goodchild frequently gave his super-villains ferocious pseudonyms, which spread fear and indicated how evil they are whilst concealing their identities. Five years after Leslie Charteris’ Saint was uncovering the secret identity of the Tiger in Meet the Tiger (1928), McLean was tracking down the Scorpion in The Triumph of McLean, (1933), and in Double Acrostic (1954) he uncovers the identity of the criminal who hides behind the name the Duke. 

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.)

McLean at the Golden Owl is the second McLean novel, published in 1930. It has the setup of a full-length novel but also contains several short stories that are only connected to the main plot by the central protagonist, McLean. This clever device was used quite frequently by Agatha Christie to tie together her short stories. In Partners in Crime (1929) she has Tommy and Tuppence Beresford in a similar setting to McLean, in that they are running a Private Detective Agency, although in their case they have been put into the situation in order to uncover an enemy agent. In McLean at the Golden Owl, McLean has been forced to resign from the police force after being disgraced by the machinations of a devious criminal, Arnaud de Wynter. McLean has set up as a private detective and is doing well. Most of his colleagues at Scotland Yard believe in his innocence and send to him any clients that they cannot help. Within the framework of McLean’s fight to obtain proof of de Wynter’s crimes and thus demonstrate McLean’s innocence, McLean investigates several unconnected crimes for his clientsGoodchild shows great skill in tying together the two strands of narrative to create a very satisfying book. As there are numerous later books featuring Inspector McLean, it is not a spoiler to add that McLean gets his villain, clears his name and is welcomed back to Scotland Yard.

So, who is Inspector Robert McLean, who for many years was one of Scotland Yard’s most successful and celebrated fictional detectives? Although the book covers always refer to him as Inspector McLean, he became a Chief Inspector early in the series, in Chief Inspector McLean (1932.) He is a man in authority who is in charge of serious cases, often of national importance. Indeed, towards the end of the series, Goodchild’s titles often become quite grandiloquent with McLean Invincible (1963), Laurels for McLean (1964) and McLean Knows the Answers (1967.) Descriptions of his talents and his appearance are given in the sixteenth McLean book, The Triumph of McLean (1933.) ‘Gifted with quite unusual accomplishments, to which was added a really first-class education, McLean had long ago proved himself to be especially fitted for the post which he held.’‘In appearance he was tall and somewhat gaunt, with eyes that were deeply set under a ponderous brow and a nose that was rather on the large side, but which, nevertheless, seemed to balance his particular type of countenance.’ McLean is athletic and fearless and thinks nothing of climbing down a sheer cliff face to retrieve some evidence, to the horror of his faithful, and far less athletic sergeant, Brook: ‘while Brook was holding his breath he commenced the perilous descent. It necessitated handholds on tufts of grass and pieces of projecting rock, and a false step would have resulted in a vertical fall of close upon three hundred feet. But at last he reached his objective and retrieved the pipe.’ (The Triumph of McLean, 1933.)

McLean is an etymologist and is interested in factual learning, as is stated in many places throughout the books, sometimes in a way that makes the reader wonder whether Goodchild was enjoying a little gentle humour at the expense of his chief character, as Christie so often did with Poirot. ‘McLean... pulled a book out of the bookcase at his elbow. It was a treatise on instinct in insect life and it held him like a charm until the bell rang and notified him he had a visitor.’ (McLean at the Golden Owl, 1930.) ‘Browsing over the bookstall he had selected three magazines containing rather weighty matter, and these, he thought, would occupy his mind for the whole journey.’... ‘McLean’s secondary literary course was a brilliant description of the life cycle of the Liver Fluke. It was rather more to his taste than probing the dark mind of dead ‘overlords’ of Europe, and he spent quite a long time on it.’ (Follow McLean, 1961.)

The adventure story element of the McLean books is to the forefront in the number of violent gun battles he indulges in and also when he bends the rules in a way that would disqualify his evidence in any Court of Law. McLean is willing to use his own judgement and break the law if he decides it is necessary. As a Private Detective he swaps a child kidnapped by his father with a young orphan, convinced that this is the best way to restore the child to his mother while the orphan boy will be well provided for. In another book, as the police officer in charge of an important case, he suppresses a vital piece of evidence because he feels a strong attraction to the female suspect and wishes to believe her innocent.

Goodchild endows McLean with several of his own hobbies, including golf, a knowledge of crosswords and acrostics and a knowledge of archaeology, experience in European travel and a passion for music. Little is revealed about McLean’s character or his personal life until he falls in love with a beautiful young woman who is a suspect in the case he is working on and is a skilled musician. ‘To McLean it was a revelation. For once the world of crooks was completely forgotten. The rather repressed romanticism in his make-up was given free rein. The purpose which had brought him to this strange house was momentarily put aside. Celia, with her beauty and genius, was making him realise how much he was missing.’ (The Triumph of McLean, 1933.) However, even when the young lady is cleared of wrong doing, there is no happy ever after for her and McLean. In Yes, Inspector McLean (1934) it is stated that ‘in his life there had been a love tragedy which, he believed, would for ever prevent a recurrence of that passion.’ Later in the book he confides in an old friend that, just before their wedding, Celia had vanished, and he had been unable to trace her.

Goodchild exercises the right of the author writing a long series and makes McLean age at a far slower than normal rate. In this he is not alone, many Golden Age authors did the same. Quite late in the series, McLean acquires a wife. In Double Acrostic (1954) McLean has been married for a year and living in a country cottage, which must add considerably to his daily commute to Scotland Yard. McLean meets his future wife, Valerie, in McLean Takes a Holiday (1942), in which she must realise the perils of getting involved with McLean when she is kidnapped. In Companion to Sirius (1949), Valerie and McLean again meet up and she plays a leading role in the adventure. It is interesting to note that in this book McLean’s investigation takes him to Venice, the romantic city in which he spent time with his first love, Celia.

Valerie McLean is an attractive, intelligent woman, who may not be a musician but has a great love of the ballet, which makes her a fitting companion for McLean. After such an eventful courtship, she is aware of the difficulties of being married to a Scotland Yard detective but accepts them without complaint. ‘A year of married life with a celebrated crime investigator had not yet lost its delightful novelty, but there were drawbacks difficult to reconcile with complete bliss, and the chief of these were the prior claims of Scotland Yard upon her very conscientious husband.’ Valerie takes an interest in her husband’s cases and McLean talks to her freely. The essence of their affectionate relationship is beautifully revealed in the following dialogue, when McLean has come home unusually early.

She came across the small lawn, with a garden-trowel clutched in a gloved hand, and surveyed him as he stepped from the car.
“Don’t tell me you’ve got the sack?” she said.
“No. I’ve sacked myself – for a few hours. Throw away that implement and go and make yourself look pretty. I’ve got you on my conscience.”
“Rot! You’ve never had a conscience.”
“Then I’ve a very effective substitute. We’ll have tea here and then take the open road, to any den of vice you care to name. How does that appeal to you?”
“Very much. I hope you’ve got plenty of cash because I feel reckless.”
“All I have in my pockets are moth-balls.”
“Then I must lend you the housekeeping money. You are going to take me up to town.”
When he is with Valerie, the cold analytical detective becomes a far more lively, warm and approachable man. However, there are points in which McLean the married man does fail to show appropriate concern. In Double Acrostic, after their remote country cottage has been broken into, McLean is so worried he borrows a police dog to guard her, but a few days later when Valerie doesn’t answer the phone, several times, even after dark, McLean expresses only moderate concern and does not either hurry home or send a uniformed officer to check on her. Sergeant Brook is the typical sidekick for a detective hero, being loyal, brave, powerfully built, good in a fight, and not nearly as clever as his superior. He is a far less cultured and sophisticated character than McLean and he would rather spend his money on a larger television set than read a factual book and prefers a pint of beer at the pub to wine and classical music. However, he has unexpected skills, possibly gained during the First World War, such as piloting a plane with such skill that he can fake a crash without actually injuring himself or McLean. ‘The Gypsy Moth had completed a somersault, and its propeller was lying apart in the long grass. A young man in flying-kit was engaged in dragging a body from under the machine.’ (The Triumph of McLean, 1933.) The purpose of this melodramatic subterfuge is to infiltrate a villain’s country house. Lesser men than McLean and Brook would drive their car into a nice soft haystack and claim that their brakes had failed. When their mission to enter the house has been successfully accomplished, Brook has to use his skills as a mechanic to fit a new propeller at the exact time they need to depart.

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.

Many of Goodchild’s novels are still very enjoyable and they deserve to be remembered, as does Goodchild’s contribution to detective fiction. As Alan Sewart said in his Foreword to the 1995 reprint of Yes, Inspector McLean, first published in 1934, the book is a ‘cauldron of condiments from which is served up something very different from the usual detective yarn.’

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.

As I stated at the start of this article, all of Goodchild’s books are out of print, although several are available second-hand or from UK public libraries. This means that ISBN numbers and publishers are irrelevant. The books that I managed to get hold of and read are listed below:

McLean at the Golden Owl (1930) [republished by Ulverscroft Large Print, 1997. ISBN: 0-7089-3665-2]
The Triumph of McLean (1933) [republished by Ulverscroft Large Print, 1997. ISBN: 0-7089-3754-3]
Yes, Inspector McLean (1934) [republished by Black Dagger Crime, 1995. ISBN: 0-7541-8662-9]
Double Acrostic (1954) [republished by Black Dagger Crime, 1998. ISBN: 0-7540-8528-7]
McLean Disposes (1958) [republished by Linford, 1994. ISBN: 0-7089-7638-7]
Follow McLean (1961) [republished by Black Dagger Crime, 2002. ISBN: 0-7540-8607-0]
Safety Last (1944) [republished by Black Dagger Crime, 1997. ISBN: 0-7540-8501-5]

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames. 
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.

To read a review of Carol latest book Strangers and Angels click on the title.

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