Obituary: Antony Melville Ross
Friday 22 January 1993
ANTONY MELVILLE ROSS was a thriller writer of unusual quality. He was an excellent craftsman who constructed his stories with skill and wrote clear uncluttered prose, and his work has a ring of authenticity which in fact owed as much to personal experience as to the liveliness of his imagination and to his gifts as a storyteller.
The six novels that he published between 1978 and 1985 arise equally from his service as a sub- mariner in the Second World War, in which he was awarded the DSC and rose to command his own boat, and the Cold War world of the Secret Service into which he transferred soon after the end of the war. He wrote them in inverse order, beginning with the spy novels and then going on to submarines. His first book, Blindfold (1978), was at once recognised by such discriminating critics as TJ Binyon and Sheridan Morley, who compared it to Ian Fleming's debut with Casino Royale. Like Fleming, Melville Ross made good use of exotic backgrounds - the Libyan desert, the Colombian jungle - as well as the familiar thriller territory of London and New York. But he made less use of, indeed was not so much at home in, the world of beautiful people, of the best clubs, the best restaurants. There is perhaps less glamour but there is no less excitement. Two Faces of Nemesis (1979) consolidated the reputation established by Blindfold but it is Tightrope (1981) that shows his complete mastery of complicated plotting and a compulsive narrative power.
Trigger (1982) was the first of the submarine stories. Set in the Mediterranean in 1943, it was at least partly based on his service under a legendary fire-eater decorated with the VC who was by no means the easiest of commanding officers. The book was as widely praised for its expertise, communicated to the reader without apparent effort, as for the suspense he knew so well how to achieve. 'He has that rare thriller writer's skill of making the reader know what to do in a crisis, as when enemy destroyers are sweeping overhead,' as one reviewer put it. The same qualities were evident in Talon (1983) and Shadow (1985). The tension and the trust between men living together in the closest of quarters and the greatest of danger pervades every line. So does the discipline and the professionalism that Melville Ross brought to his work as an author.
It was his high standards that prevented him from going on writing when he felt he had said all he had to say. He was incapable of being bogus and he was without the least degree of vanity. A man of great charm and humour, he adamantly refused to allow any of the personal publicity that might so easily have made him as well- known as any thriller writer of his day.
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