by Carol Westron
Edwin Isaac Radford was born in West Bromwich, but worked in London. He gained an MA at Cambridge University and spent his entire working life in journalism and held many editorial roles, the last and most prestigious of which was as Arts Editor-in-Chief and Columnist for the Daily Mirror in 1937. Edwin was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a member of the Author’s Club, and also of the Savage Club, a gentlemen-only club in London, which was popular with journalists.
Mona’s early life was more unconventional. She was the daughter of James Mangan, an Irish poet and actor, and his actress wife, Lily Johnson. Mona toured with her mother from the time she was a small child and, under the name Mona Magnet, became a stage performer at a young age. Later she became a leading lady in musical comedy and revues. She also wrote short plays and sketches for the stage, and verse, mainly for children. Edwin and Mona were already in their forties when they married in 1939.
In 1944 Edwin and Mona started their collaboration of detective story writing, which lasted until they were both in their eighties. They were also amateur artists, using both watercolours and oils. They enjoyed travelling and always spent the winter in warmer climates abroad. They spent their last few years living in Worthing, a West Sussex seaside town.
The Radfords wrote in collaboration at most stages of the creative process, but the plot was usually developed by Mona and the deductions and scientific input tended to be Edwin’s, who described their creative partnership as: ‘She kills them off, and I find out how she done it.’
The early titles in the Manson series were produced under the regulations that met the War Economy Standards and none of them were very long. The readership these books were aimed at was indicated by the front cover dust wrapper, which showed Manson’s head superimposed against a black silhouette depicting Sherlock Holmes, with the title ‘a Manson Mystery.’In these early books, a great deal of emphasis is placed on how the authors are providing the reader with all the clues to solve the mystery and they interspersed the description of the investigations with ‘Challenges to the reader’, a device that now seems old-fashioned and rather irritating, as it takes the reader out of the narrative flow. As they claim, the authors play fair when it comes to supplying all the relevant clues. However, it ought to be said that they supply all the clues eventually. The fairness slips a little when a detective forgets to ask an obvious question or report a useful fact until it is convenient to the plot for the answer to be revealed, or even occasionally fails to notice a clue when it’s in plain sight. In fact, even with these convenient lapses of memory, because the authors are depending only on Doctor Manson’s scientific expertise, augmented by the occasional alibi, it is quite easy for the experienced crime fiction reader to spot the culprit. This could well have been one of the main reasons why R. Austin Freeman invented and so frequently used the ‘inverted’ detective story, an example that the Radfords might have been wise to follow. In the 1940s, Edwin Radford was also publishing non-fiction books, such as Crowther’s Encyclopedia of Phrases and Origins (1945); To Coin a Phrase, Unusual Words and How They Came About (1946); and The Encyclopedia of Superstitions: An Improved System of Phrenology, Mesmerism, Trance and Mind-Reading (1948), some of these were written in collaboration with his wife.
Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, a regular in the Manson books. Death and the Professor (1961) features Professor Marcus Stubbs, who meets with other members of the Dilettantes’ Club to dine and discuss unsolved crimes. Professor Stubbs uses his skill in logic to solve the most apparently impossible of ‘locked room’ crimes. The device of a group of amateur detectives who gather together in a social way and solve crimes that have baffled the experts had been used almost thirty years before in Agatha Christie’s The Thirteen Problems (1932), and, twenty-five years earlier, in Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1937).
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.