Wednesday, 18 March 2020

The Plague of Silence (Dr Palfrey #20)

1966 Edition
Author: John Creasey
First Published: 1958
File size/Pages: 776KB (Omnibus) / 190pp
Ebook Publisher: House of Stratus
Ebook Date: October 2013

The usual disclaimer: Although many Creasey books are readily available in eBook format, I saved some pennies and picked mine up (the one pictured) at a local used bookshop for just £2.

I think you can safely call John Creasey a 'prolific' writer.

He penned a staggering amount of novels, over six hundred. He was born to a family of limited means in 1908 in Surrey, England, and died in 1973. An author of ostensibly crime and science fiction thrillers, who had his first book published in 1930 - there was no holding him back from that moment to produce some of the most famous and long-lasting series of books starring some memorable characters who are still lovingly collected by bibliophiles across the world today.

No stranger to the pseudonym, Creasey used twenty-nine of them. Among his most notable pen-names are; J. J. Marric, Gordon Ashe, Michael Halliday, Anthony Morton and Jeremy York.

Due to polio as a young man he was unable to take part in the War, so he determined to write as many books as he could to support the soldiers and their families during those hard times.

In order to have written and published quite so many books, Creasey had to have been successful right? Well, yes indeed. His most popular books were those that had recurring roles for his creations such as The Toff (an amazing 59 novels over the course of forty years), Chief Inspector Roger West (43 novels), Commander George Gideon (21), Dr Stanislaus Alexander "Sap" Palfrey (34 science fiction novels), The Baron (47 books and an adaptation into a TV Series by ITC) and the Patrick Pawlish series (50).

Creasey is credited as having over 37 books published in a single year. This man could write books faster than I could read them!

For those of you who, like me, enjoy the odd Western or two, Creasey also wrote those too. Some of the names he used are, Jimmy Wilde, Ken Ranger, Tex Riley and William K. Reilly. When once asked on an American television game show of the 1960's why he used so many alternatives, Creasey responded, "When I was young, I was hungry. And my publishers wouldn't take too many books under one name."

In 1953, Creasey was responsible for the creation of the Crime Writers Association (CWA) in the United Kingdom. The CWA 'Daggers' are the "UK's top crime writing awards". The CWA John Creasey (New Blood Dagger) is awarded in his memory, for the best crime novel by a first-time author of any nationality first published in the UK in English.

The Plague of Silence is one of the novels featuring Dr Stanislaus Alexander "Sap" Palfrey. These books are also known as the "Z5" series due to the name of the secret organisation that Palfrey works for/runs. Z5 is a clandestine underground group formed during the War by the Allied Forces (not to be confused with Creasey's other secret thriller series about "Department Z") whose aim is to battle those who oppose or threaten the free world.

The story, set in the late 1950's, begins in the English country village of Conne, where Larry Hill, a worker at the local World Wide Food factory returns home to find his wife, Jane, collapsed in the house, paralysed, and unable to speak. After obtaining the help of his neighbours, Hill contacts his local GP, who due to a prior engagement sends his colleague, Dr Korven to look at Mrs Hill. When Korven arrives he examines the stricken woman and discovers what looks like a mosquito bite on her body. Korven, who has some experience of tropical ailments, appears to have formed an opinion on what the cause is and leaves the Hill family promising to get back to them later that same night.

Korven is intercepted by mysterious strangers and never returns. Larry Hill contacts his GP again, who is able to attend his wife this time. She is slowly recovering but still totally unable to speak. The GP, Dr Arthur Dimmock, is baffled and worried, he is on his way back to his home in the next town, Lauritson when he is the victim of an attempted kidnap. He reports his experience to the police, and makes his way home again. Dimmock meets his demise by the gun of an instruder.

eBook cover
All of the above proceedings come to the attention of Dr Palfrey and his Z5 organisation. Especially after Jane Hill dies of her infection. Palfrey and his second in command, Stefan Andromovitch set about sending a couple of operatives to Conne to investigate. It appears that Korven was planted by Palfrey based upon some intel that came his way. Matt Stone and Yvonne Brown are quickly briefed and packed off to the sleepy English town to find out what mysterious plague is striking down innocent citizens.

What follows is a cracking good yarn that feels like a perfect mixture of John Wyndham (The Kraken Wakes and Day of the Triffids) and a lightweight James Bond adventure. It could even be described as  a story about Dr Who's U.N.I.T outfit set in the fifties before the Doctor encounters them.

I loved this novel. It was just the right pitch of being plausibly outlandish. In the current situation the world finds itself it was rather strange to be reading about a world wide plague! Creasey is not an author I have actively sought out in the past, but his books simply cannot be avoided due to his enormous output of the years. I enjoyed his characterisations (sometimes a bit old fashioned for today's tastes, but not that bad) and there were a number of set pieces that bring to mind films from the fifties and sixties. There isn't much violence, but when there is, it's pretty grim and matter of fact. Matt Stone was a good hero for part of the story, but this seems to be more of a team effort, with other operatives and Dr Palfrey himself getting in on the act. I think this ensemble structure might be how all the Z5 adventures are set up. It's a neat angle and I enjoyed it, as Creasey manages to fit in just enough personality into each player to keep you engaged.

I know I've only read one, but based on this I'd highly recommend more Z5 books by Creasey.