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Friday 2 December 2022

Forgotten Author Corner: David Williams (1926-2003) by Donna Fletcher Crow

David Williams, who left a highly successful career as an advertising executive in London after suffering a stroke in the mid-1970s, created an engaging, suave hero who seems to reflect many of the author’s characteristics.

Williams was born in 1926 in Bridgend, Wales, and many of his novels are set in Wales. Writing ability ran in his family as his father, a reporter when David was born, rose to become a subeditor on The Daily Telegraph in Manchester. The obituary Simon Brett wrote of Williams recounts that “The family had a love of classic English literature and a strong tradition of storytelling—David started telling stories at the age of seven.”

Shared Characteristics With Hero                                      

Williams read Modern History at St. John’s College, Oxford. Mark Treasure, his hero, attended Jesus College, Oxford.

David Williams served as an officer in the Royal Navy in World War II. After the war he started in advertising as a copywriter and rose through the ranks to head his own agency which became regarded as one of the largest and most successful advertising agencies in Britain. Williams’ hero Mark Treasure is one of the most successful merchant bankers in London.

Simon Brett said, “In his writing, his manner, his conversation and his clothes, Williams was unfailingly elegant, particularly in his trademark white shirt and white tie.” The image fits Treasure perfectly.

Mark Treasure, like his creator, is a staunch supporter of the high church branch of the Church of England and serves on several boards and committees supporting its work—which often lead him into murderous situations calling on his detective skills. Likewise, David Williams was a high churchman, serving as churchwarden and cantor at the Anglo-Catholic St. Mary Aldermary (along with Sir John Betjeman). He was also a governor of Pusey House, Oxford, dedicated to continuing the work of the Oxford Movement. Simon Brett depicted Williams as “a man of strong convictions, but temperate in listening to the views of those who did not agree with him. His Anglo-Catholic faith was always strong, so much so that on leaving Oxford he had seriously contemplated the priesthood, and he remained throughout his life what he described as a ‘non-celestial churchman.’”

Asked to name some of the things he cared about, Williams listed “the Anglican Church, the poetry of the 1662 Prayer Book, and the maintenance of ancient churches and cathedrals.”

The urbane Mark Treasure is married to Molly, a highly successful actress, specializing in farce. Molly accompanies her husband when his work or other duties take him out of town—if her performing schedule allows. She occasionally assists him in his detection as well. Simon Brett Called the marriage “one of the more convincing marital partnerships in crime fiction.” David Williams was married to his wife Brenda for 52 years and they had a son and a daughter. He always insisted that she was the “indispensable motivator” in his recuperation from the stroke he experienced.

Career Change

In 1977, at the age of 51, Williams suffered a severe stroke which left him partially paralysed for a time. He realized that he would not be able to return to the stresses of life in the advertising industry. Since he had already written crime fiction in his spare time, he turned from advertising to writing whodunnits. “At that time, he had written four chapters of the fourth of his whodunnits featuring the banker Mark Treasure, who was determined in his pursuit of crime and unrepentantly at home in boardrooms, Oxford colleges and cathedral closes,” according to Williams’ obituary in the Guardian.

Simon Brett recounted that David Williams “had always hoped to become a full-time writer. He made his debut with Unholy Writ, a year before his stroke. His books were in a strong tradition of British crime fiction. ‘I write whodunits which are aimed to be above all credible, civilised entertainments, incidentally informative,’ he said. ‘And to lace them with humour–the last as an enduring legacy from two friends and mentors, Bruce Montgomery [who wrote as Edmund Crispin] and Kingsley Amis.’ His ultimate hero in crime fiction was the donnishly witty Michael Innes.”

Gradually “what began as a remedial activity somehow miraculously blossomed into a satisfying occupation and offered the prospect of a dignified way of making a living,” Williams recalled. (Although leaving the adveretising business reportedly cost him two million pounds.) Simon Brett says, “He was amused by the good reviews he frequently received for his plotting, because ‘I rarely know the identity of the killer until the penultimate chapter.’

Williams’ plots are sufficiently sophisticated for his suave hero and civilized enough to give a charming picture of Treasure’s world. Williams also employs an interesting technique to keep his readers on their toes. Murders generally come late in the stories—often after the middle. That challenges the reader to figure out who the victim is going to be, then watch for motive and opportunity in the various surrounding characters—of whom there are always plenty. It’s harder to look out for means when you don’t know what the method of murder will be, but it pays to note the presence of balconies, deep ponds, sharp knives, and various drugs.

David Williams wrote 23 novels in all, 19 of which are Mark Treasure Mysteries, although lists seem to vary in their numbers. Inspired by the success of Colin Dexter’s Morse series on television, Williams developed a second series of books featuring Chief Inspector Merlin Parry of the South Wales Constabulary, together with Sergeant Gomer Lloyd. Williams was disappointed, however, to realise that “television executives were not enamored with Welsh accents,” so the series was never produced.

His books were twice shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger award, but he never won. He did, however, consider his election as a member of the Detection Club in 1988 to be a consolation. Simon Brett recalls, “He was a regular at the club’s dinners, where his wit and charm were much appreciated by his fellow members.”

Mark Treasure Mysteries

Unholy Writ, Williams first novel, written as something of a hobby, was published in 1976 and dedicated to his wife Brenda. It was hailed as a “pleasantly humor-filled debut,” by H. R. F. Keating and “Lively, imaginative debut,” by Edmund Crispin. Treasure goes to a small village to help a friend regain the ancestral home he had sold. What starts out as a relaxing country vacation is soon interrupted by murder, the search for a Shakespeare manuscript and the diary confessions of a mistress of King Charles II.

Treasure by Degrees takes our cosmopolitan banker to a university college facingbankruptcy. It is Treasure’s job to adjudicate on behalf of the college between 2 offers of financial assistance—the Crown Prince of Abu B’at who will demand complete control, and an American foundation that would impose peculiar conditions. Nasty threats and student demonstrations are bad enough, but then a corpse surfaces.

Treasure up in Smoke offers Mark Treasure and his charming wife Molly a delightful holiday at a sleepy British colony in the West Indies. All notions of a romantic idyll disappear, however, when Treasure’s banking assistant, serving on the island, is discovered clutching the severed head of the colony’s most influential citizen. Even a visit to a convent of Anglican nuns who support themselves by producing especially fine cigars, turns out to be far from relaxing.

Murder for Treasure takes place in a small West Wales sailing village close to St. David’s. Even before he arrives there, though, the banker has already survived a murderous assault aboard the Fishguard Express, a pitched battle on a train station, and the inexplicable disappearance of a battered Australian clergyman. The cast of eccentric characters grows exponentially. Mark Treasure is trying to sort out the takeover of the local industry—a footbalm manufactory—by a giant American chemical corporation, but complications grow when Mrs. Ogmore Davies’s parrot finds a body in Panty Harbour.

Copper, Gold & Treasure has Roderick Copper, retired Major, and Benny Gold, London cabbie, applying for residential places with the Rudyard Trust for Retired Officers and Gentlemen—only to learn that the Trust is bankrupt, and its multi-million-pound assets are about to be divided between the Founder’s descendants. Mark Treasure is called in when Copper and Gold’s scheme to preserve the charity goes wrong with kidnapping, stabbing and sudden death.

Treasure Preserved centers around the fate of the 19th century Round House whose survival could wreck a multi-million-pound development in a south coast resort. A dozen powerful people are in favour of knocking it down for various reasons. But Louella, Lady Brasset insists it is a national treasure—the work of Sir John Soane and William Butterfield. Until she is murdered.

Advertise for Treasure takes us into the author’s own world when the chairman of one of London’s top advertising agencies commits suicide. Or does he? And what about the takeover bid by a huge New York firm? Or the fortune the agency’s most powerful client will lose if the sale goes ahead? Or the fact that the wife of the head of a rival agency has a key to the murdered man’s apartment? 

Wedding Treasure finds Mark and Molly Treasure in the centre of a classic English country house mystery when they witness the death of an unwelcome guest—the womanizing father of the bride. Every member of the bridal party has reason to want the trouble-maker dead, only the Treasures can sort through the strange terms of an inheritance, old infidelities, and star-crossed lovers.

Murder in Advent is set in Litchester Cathedral, usually an oasis of cloistered calm, but suddenly the centre of an acrimonious dispute of the proposed sale of its 1225 copy of the Magna Carta. Mark Treasure is invited down to sort out the squabbling the cathedral chapter, but before he can arrive a fire destroys the ecclesiastical
library—Magna Carta and all—and a body is discovered in the debris.

Treasure in Roubles takes The Baroque Circle, a cultural group of which Molly Treasure is president, to Russia. Leningrad police suspect members of the group of the theft of a painting from the Hermitage Museum, and Mark Treasure is forced to team up with the greatest cynic in the KGB to protect his fellow tourists.

Divided Treasure calls on Mark Treasure to use all his skills as a banker to solve a double murder at a sweet factory in a small town on the coast of North Wales. But what about the masked rapist stalking the streets, the petty thief harassing citizens, and the demonstrating workers keen to save their jobs and their pension fund?

Treasure in Oxford is a sophisticated puzzle to solve a murder apparently motivated by the sale of a set of sketches from John Constable’s single visit to Oxford. Only Mark Treasure could find the links between a fire in Peking and a yellow bicycle, a professor’s fetish and a family Bible, or a pair of silver handcuffs and a young woman’s love life.

Holy Treasure! Has Mark and Molly Treasure in the center of a dispute over the sale of St. Martin’s church in the centre of London—a site worth millions. Several investment groups vie for the purchase, but The Honourable Mrs. Monica Lodey, whose grandfather built the church, calls in her financial adviser Mark Treasure to aid her appeal to save the church and Molly is the first to promise money. When a slate falls from the church porch, killing the vicar’s wife, both Mark and Molly are drawn into a dangerous investigation.

Prescription for Murder finds the Closter Drug Company on the verge of its first major
success—a landmark cure for migraines. Until Dermot Hackle, Closter’s Marketing Director, disappears and his abductors demand that the directors sell off their shares at a crippling loss. When Hackle is found dead Mark Treasure, non-Executive Chairman of the Board of Closter Drug, must find the killer—even if it is one of the company’s own directors.

Treasure by Post has Mark Treasure accompanying his actress wife Molly on location to a picturesque West Country town which is home to an extremely wealthy convent housing only three nuns. The bishop persuades Treasure to become involved in the convent’s financial affairs, replacing their former advisor who has recently died under suspicious circumstances. Counterfeit stamps made by the nuns, a fire in the convent, and the death of another of the convent’s financial advisers are only some of the complications Mark and Molly must sort through.

 Additional David Williams titles

Mark Treasure Mysteries:
Planning on Murder
Banking on Murder

 Inspector Parry Series

Last Seen Breathing
Death of a Prodigal
Dead in the Market

A Terminal Case

Suicide Intended

Practice to Deceive

Donna Fletcher Crow is a former English teacher and a Life Member of the Jane Austen Society of America. She is the author of 50 books, mostly novels dealing with British history.  The award-winning Glastonbury, A Novel of the Holy Grail, an Arthurian grail search epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work. Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho.  She is an enthusiastic gardener.

To read more about all of Donna’s books and see pictures from her garden and research trips go to:
You can follow her on Facebook at:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for posting this, Lizzie! I am still searching our David Williams books--just got one yesterday in the post. He is worth the effort and deserves to be much more widely remembered than he is.