Invisible Ink No 241: John Creasey


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The Independent Culture

Considering he’s largely out of print, the facts about John Creasey’s life are staggering.

The English thriller writer was one of the most prolific authors of all time, producing 562 books under 28 different pseudonyms. Even he had no recollection of some of his titles, and no comprehensive catalogue of his works has ever been completed. Although he received 743 rejection slips for his work, his sales totalled around 2.5 million copies a year, and he was made an MBE.

He created 11 different series, writing longhand, and revised each volume half a dozen times before sending it out. He wrote with a special typewriter that was equipped with three extra keys, and it took him around a week to finish a book.

He was married four times, and went around the world twice, founded a political movement advocating shared all-party responsibility, and fought four by-elections. He also lent his name to John Creasey Mystery Magazine, and had his own literary agency and paperback publishing house. Did I mention that he founded the Crime Writers’ Association, which is still in rude health? Feeling tired yet?

Creasey was born to a working class family in Southfields, Surrey, in 1908, the seventh of nine children. His first book was published when he was 22. By his 29th birthday, 29 of his books were in print. He created an array of sleuths and secret service agents, from The Toff to Inspector Gideon, Dr Palfrey and The Baron. Gideon’s Way was filmed for TV with John Gregson, and was later a John Ford film, while The Baron became a series starring Steve Forrest.

Creasey once said in an interview: “Occasionally I find that a new plot is becoming a little vague because I am concentrating on too many at once.”

So much for quantity. How was the quality? Well, let’s say that each word was not torn from Creasey’s tortured soul, but given that he produced between 7,000 and 10,000 words a day, the writing is solidly appealing, with unpretentious characters doing a good job of work as they handle exciting situations. Creasey created the pseudonyms because booksellers complained that he dominated the “C” section in bookshops. He also wrote on politics and philosophy, and there is a Creasey museum in Salisbury, Wiltshire. But there’s something that doesn’t quite come into focus about him – biographies trumpet his prolific output, but rarely champion a single volume as the archetypal John Creasey novel.