Forgotten authors No.37: Lionel Davidson
Sunday 06 September 2009
Oddly, Lionel Davidson is one of those authors who turns up a lot on the racks of second-hand bookshops, in sexy little Penguin editions that fit a pocket.
A Yorkshireman who spent years as a freelance reporter, Davidson's versatile, pacy novels propelled him into the forefront of thriller writing. Although they are now back in print, mentioning his name to younger readers produces blank looks. Let's put that right; he's a terrific writer.
His first novel, The Night of Wenceslas (pictured), concerns a young spendthrift forced into a spying trip to Prague during the Cold War in order to retain his beloved car (used as a stake in his debts). Our anti-hero manages to get beaten up before flushing the information down the toilet, and falls deep into a trap of his own making. It's a typical Davidson ploy, to graft a sympathetic character into an increasingly elaborate plot.
His second novel, The Rose of Tibet, had something of H Rider Haggard about it, and was a genuine adventure that won the admiration of Graham Greene and Daphne du Maurier. This tale of a quest for treasure from India to Tibet should, by rights, have been a Harrison Ford film.
I first discovered Davidson in his 1971 novel Smith's Gazelle, and being of an impressionable age, was moved to tears. It's a fable concerning a small Jewish boy and a wizened old Arab, who join forces during the Six Day War to save the titular gazelle (the last of its species) from extinction. The story has a wonderful timelessness and a compelling message.
The Chelsea Murders won Davidson the Gold Dagger Award for best thriller. It presents a chillingly disguised murderer and a raft of memorably louche Chelsea characters, although the plot favours method over motive a little too much. It also has a problem common with books from the 1970s: a lack of political correctness that was simply the linguistic currency of the time, and which is no direct fault of the author's.
Davidson's most recent thriller, Kolymsky Heights (1994), has a terrific premise: the hero is a Canadian-Indian with a linguistic talent that allows him to infiltrate one of the most forbidding places on earth – a secret laboratory buried deep in the permafrost of Siberia. The question is not just whether he'll succeed in his mission, but how he'll ever get out. As usual, the style and pacing of the story is superb.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre