Ostara Publishing Colourfon

Ostara Publishing

03 Apr 2012
Books: Black Camelot
Cage of Ice
Terror's Cradle

The Guile of Duncan Kyle

The Guile of Duncan Kyle

It is often said that there was a ‘Golden Age’ for the English detective novel sometime between the two World Wars although critics and readers argue long and hard about when it actually started and finished.
    There is however, little debate about the fact that the 1960s and ’70s formed the Golden Age of British thriller writing. On the spy thriller front, John le Carré and Len Deighton were revolutionising and redefining the genre whilst other authors, such as Andrew York, John Gardner and Desmond Cory, wrote about super spies and flamboyant agents in the James Bond mould, filling the gap left by the death of Ian Fleming in 1964.
    But it was with the adventure thriller that the British swept all competition before them. Hammond Innes, whose fiction writing career had begun in 1937, was still producing best-selling tales of adventure in exotic locations, though his position as the nation’s favourite yarn-spinner had been challenged in the 1950s by Geoffrey Jenkins (a South African who had worked in London as a colleague and friend of Ian Fleming), Berkely Mather and by the immensely popular Alistair Maclean, many of whose novels were filmed.
    Such thriller writers were not just best sellers in Britain - their sales were truly international – and publishers were always on the look-out for new talent. In 1963, Desmond Bagley emerged as the latest superstar of the action/adventure thriller and then, in 1970, two others: Brian Callison and ‘Duncan Kyle’ – the pen-name adopted by journalist John Franklin Broxholme.

Duncan Kyle c. 1990
Duncan Kyle c. 1990
   Born in Bradford in Yorkshire in 1930, John Broxholme began his journalistic career as a copy-boy on the Bradford Telegraph & Argus before graduating to editorial jobs on the Leicester Mercury and the Yorkshire Post before moving south to London’s Fleet Street in the 1950s. He became editorial director of Odhams Magazines where one of his specialities was to edit down popular novels for serialisation.
    His ability to work at great speed invoked comparisons with Edgar Wallace, the prolific thriller writer (and Fleet Street journalist) of the pre-war years, who claimed to be able to write a novel within a week – as did John Creasey, a founder and chairman of the Crime Writers Association. Rising to the challenge of fellow journalists, Broxholme won a bet by writing The War Queen, a rousing historical novel of Queen ‘Boadicea’ and her revolt against Imperial Rome, in one week flat in 1967.
The War Queen, J.F. Broxholme
    The story of the revolt of Boadicea’s Iceni tribe and her sacking of the Roman capital of Britain, Colchester, was particularly close to Broxholme’s heart for it was mostly set in his adopted East Anglia. It was also to be the only book he ever published under his own name.
    As he became increasingly disillusioned with take-overs in the magazine industry, Broxholme took the decision to leave London for the East Anglian countryside he so admired and try his hand at thriller-writing and the result was A Cage of Ice which incorporated the political tensions of the Cold War, a very prescient warning about environmental damage to the Arctic ice-cap and a stirring, man-against-nature mission across the Polar Sea to the Russian island of Novaya Zemlya.
    But first, he decided, he needed a pen-name; partly because he was fed up with Broxholme being mis-spelled! Noting that many of his favourite thriller writers – Fleming, Maclean and Innes – all had Scottish origin,  he came up with ‘Duncan Kyle’ which was to serve him well over the next twenty years.
   Then, of course, he needed a publisher and here the legend of ‘Duncan Kyle’ in publishing terms really began.
   In the 1960s and ’70s, the publishing house of Collins had a near monopoly on the action/adventure thriller market, dominating international bestseller lists with books by Alistair Maclean, Hammond Innes, Geoffrey Jenkins, Berkely Mather and Desmond Bagley. Collins seemed, therefore the logical place to send the manuscript of A Cage of Ice, which the totally unknown ‘Duncan Kyle’ duly did – and there it duly sat, in the in-tray of an editor in the company’s London office.
    At the time, the principle owner of the firm, Sir William ‘Billy’ Collins had a flat above the office and one night, unable to get to sleep, he raided his own editorial offices for something to read. He discovered A Cage of Ice, read it and immediately offered to publish it, thus launching a string of international bestsellers and earning the author the accolade “the outstanding thriller-writer discovery of the seventies” from the London Evening News and a rave review from the New York Times which described it as: “A good, tight thriller that provides first-rate armchair excitement with a tension that doesn’t let up until the last page.”
   Kyle’s thrillers were noted for their fast-moving plots, well-researched backgrounds and often exotic foreign locations, from western Canada, Greenland, Sweden and the Shetland Islands, to the frozen wastes of the Arctic or the jungles of Borneo, or back into the dark heart of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. In that, Kyle had much in common with thriller-writer Desmond Bagley, with whom he was to become firm friends, the two of them also sharing a friendship with the legendary Swedish editor and crime connoisseur Iwan Morelius and in Terror’s Cradle, there is a suspicious character in the Gothenburg scenes who goes by the name of ‘Morelius’!
Duncan Kyle and Iwan Morelius in Sweden in 1976 Duncan Kyle and Iwan Morelius in Sweden in 1976
Duncan Kyle and Iwan Morelius in Sweden in 1976
    Duncan Kyle very quickly became a notable character on the thriller-writing scene, remembered for his trademark small cigars and appreciation of fine malt whisky, and becoming Chairman of the Crime Writers Association, 1976-77.
   The former literary editor of the Daily Mirror, and a neighbour of Duncan Kyle’s in rural Suffolk shared some fond memories of the author when he heard of the latest Top Notch Thriller reissues:
Very glad to hear that that one of the Top Notch titles is A Cage of Ice because it led to one of the most pleasant rituals fellow writers and friends ever shared.

The research for A Cage of Ice included a sojourn at an American kind-of-secret base in the Arctic. Apart from background and colour (mostly snow white) for the book he emerged with the recipe of the most sophisticated dry martini ever served in Suffolk and perhaps in Britain. It involved keeping a special tea pot in his fridge/freezer, carefully measured high-proof gin, un-waxed lemons and a very secret proportion of martini to gin. It tasted fabulous and he always claimed the most important part of the whole business was using that teapot –and drinking with friends.

The year he was chairman of the CWA was a highlight in the era of British crime and thriller writing, Duncan Kyle, Desmond Bagley and the Collins stable led the field but it was a year to remember for the very special Duncan Kyle Martini.
   Top Notch Thrillers is proud to publish three Duncan Kyle thrillers: A Cage of Ice, Terror’s Cradle and Black Camelot, of which, in 1978, Time magazine said: “Black Camelot is all Kyle guile.”
Mike Ripley,
Series Editor, Top Notch Thrillers,
Colchester, April 2012.
With thanks to George Thaw and Iwan Morelius.


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