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Monday 23 August 2021

‘Gideon's Fire’ by John Creasey writing as J.J. Marric.

First published in 1961, Gideon's Fire is available in paperback.
Published by House of Stratus,
23 September 2008.
ISBN: 978-0-75511404-7

The book starts with P.C. Jarvis on night duty patrolling on foot the streets off the Old Kent Road. Jarvis is an ordinary, decent policeman who has never had to deal with any major crime until that night when he discovers a fire in a tenement block:
'He took out his whistle and blew a long, ear-splitting blast which screeched up and down the narrow staircase. Then he tucked the whistle away, and bellowed: “Fire! Show a leg – fire!” As he shouted, he ran up to the next landing, and saw thick smoke above it; the fire seemed to be coming from the fourth floor, and he thought that he could hear the crackling of flames. He grabbed the iron knocker of the door nearest him, thundered on it, and kept shouting: “Fire!” until he pulled out his handkerchief and held it in front of his face as he charged up the next flight of stairs. It did not occur to him that he was being brave.

A family of seven die in that fire and P.C. Jarvis also dies of his injuries. This is the first of several deadly fires across London, with all the accompanying problems of vandalism and pillaging, and George Gideon, Commander of Scotland Yard's C.I.D. makes it a matter of priority to track down the perpetrator.

This is not the only dreadful crime to happen in London that night. In Islington a fourteen-year-old girl was raped and strangled in her bedroom. There are on-going cases for Gideon to oversee, from bank robbery to white-collar share fraud; and the discovery of three young women's bodies buried in the same grave near Chichester, which indicates that there is a serial killer at large. Through the book we follow Gideon as he directs his men until the cases are concluded, often with further tragedy along the way.

Gideon is a formidable figure, described as he is entering Scotland Yard: 'It was on this daily walk that Gideon really seemed to become part of the big red-brick buildings. He was a tall man, six feet two, massive, with a thick chest, slightly rounded shoulders smoothly fitted with an excellently tailored coat, and unexpectedly flat at the stomach. His jowl looked rather fleshy and there was a hint of overweight at the back of his neck, but his belly was as hard as a board, and he took pride in his physical strength. That gave Gideon much of his quality, for it explained his complete confidence in himself. Sight of him mounting the steps, head jutting forward, taking in everything he saw, was an indication of his character: the way he always bored ahead, without allowing anything to push him off the path he wanted to go.'

In all the Gideon books, the police are not idealised and they are certainly not glamorous; they are ordinary, fallible men, many of whom have irritating mannerisms, but the majority of whom are doing a hard job to the best of their ability.

Gideon is a happily married man. The marital problems of earlier years have been resolved. At one time, his wife, Kate, resented his obsession with his job, especially because he had not been there for her when one of their children was taken ill and died, but that is in the past and they are a devoted couple, with six children, three boys and three girls. The Gideons live in a pleasant house in Fulham, the area of London where Creasey had been brought up. In Gideon's Fire, not all of Gideon's problems are at work, because one of his sons has got a girl who lives nearby pregnant and the young couple are being pressured by her family to marry.

The Gideon series are superb police procedurals but they are not a soft read. They tell it as it is and deal with crime and the aftermath of crime. Gideon's Fire shows not only the detection of the crime but it explores grief of P.C. Jarvis' wife and children and the mental breakdown of the mother of the murdered girl. It also shows the actions and the mental processes of the perpetrators, although there is never any hint of condoning the crimes. The Gideon books get inside the police force at that time and are worth reading for their depiction of the London police at a time when the policeman on the beat was a respected figure to most citizens. But above all the Gideon Books are a compelling read, and Gideon's Fire, which won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, is one of the best books in a remarkably fine series.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

John Creasey (September 17, 1908 - June 9, 1973) was born in Southfields, Surrey, England and died in New Hall, Bodenham, Salisbury Wiltshire, England. He was the seventh of nine children in a working-class home. He became an English author of crime thrillers, published in excess of 600 books under 20+ different pseudonyms. He invented many famous characters who would appear in a whole series of novels. Probably the most famous of these is Gideon of Scotland Yard, the basis for the television program Gideon's Way but others include Department Z, Dr. Palfrey, The Toff, Inspector Roger West, and The Baron (which was also made into a television series). In 1962, Creasey won an Edgar Award for Best Novel, from the Mystery Writers of America, for Gideon's Fire, written under the pen name J. J. Marric. And in 1969 he was given the MWA's highest honor, the Grand Master Award.

Carol Westron is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 5 further mysteries. 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 This Game of Ghosts
click on the title.

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