Friday, September 4, 2015

FFB: Cruel as a Cat - Kyle Hunt (aka John Creasey)

Dr. Emmanuel Cellini is one of the least known in John Creasey’s teeming crowd of series characters. The saga of Cellini begins with Cunning as a Fox (1965) and continues using a simile formula, with and without animals, for another ten titles. Cellini is another in a long line of fictional consulting psychiatrists/psychologists who work with the police. Based on the one entry I’ve read Dr. Cellini isn’t much of a psychologist or even a detective. In fact, he is hardly featured as a supporting player in this fourth entry in the series – Cruel as a Cat (1968).

The plot could’ve worked far better as a short story or novella. As a novel it is very short and very padded with much of the action reiterated and played over repeatedly over the course of its 170 pages. Essentially, it’s one of those “psycho lady holding a person captive” stories. You’ve probably seen a few of these books turned into movies like Die! Die! My Darling! (aka Fanatic), You’ll Like My Mother, and That Cold Day in the Park. Usually this plot formula is played out with a domineering, over-the-edge, middle-aged mother cast as the lunatic captor who is desperately trying to protect some dark family secret while the kidnapped victim is usually a young woman seen as an interloper.

In Creasey’s novel there is a slightly original twist. The loony is Midge Benison, a young woman and her captive is Jim Clayton, a handsome young man who she recognizes from newspaper and TV reports as an accused murderer on the run. Midge agrees to hide Jim and when he foolishly agrees he finds himself trapped in an attic with only one entry/exit that is locked every night. The novel basically tells us the story of Jim's attempts to escape his prison, the police investigation to locate his whereabouts, and the backstory of why Midge behaves the way she does.

Sadly, it’s not really very interesting. Creasey’s writing is matter of fact and sort of dull. The young woman is a cartoon cutout of a "schizophrenic" and we get all sorts of misinformation about that mental illness from the very unknowledgeable Dr. Cellini. What books did Creasey read to get his information? Or was he only drawing on bad movies of the past? It’s an insulting portrait of a mentally ill character and the supposedly psychological explanations for her behavior are reduced -- as expected for this era -- to nymphomania resulting from an abused childhood.

The only reason I kept reading was for the portrait of the landlady Ermyntrude Stern, who catches onto the young woman’s plotting. In fact, Midge -- who is Miss Stern's only lodger -- is so transparent in how she brings men into the landlady’s home for obvious sexual encounters it’s a wonder she wasn’t evicted within a few months. But Ermyntrude is the most human and fully realized character in the story; each time she appears the book truly comes alive. There is a sort of corny fantasized romance she dreams up when she meets Dr. Cellini. The two of them join forces in ferreting out the various hiding places where the young woman has hidden her captive. But Cellini does not really solve anything. It’s Miss Stern who is the real detective of the book.

This is not at all recommended even for the mildly curious. I doubt I’ll be checking out any of the other Dr. Cellini books. For the record the books are published under the pseudonym "Michael Halliday" in the UK and as "by Kyle Hunt" in the US. And of course reprints have Creasey’s names emblazoned across the cover as if he were the world’s leading bestseller writer. Apart from a few of the outlandish spy fantasies featuring Dr. Palfrey I have yet to find a Creasey mystery that I found either gripping or entertaining. They’re all sort of blah to me. This must be the price one pays for being such an outrageously prolific writing machine.

7 comments:

  1. That is a useful analysis. I want to read or reread some books by Creasey and I do wonder what my reaction will be nowadays.

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  2. I've enjoyed Creasey's books about The Toff and some of the Roger West's. Dr Palfrey always bored me, and I never dared try any with Cellini. Thanks for letting me know what I already guessed!

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  3. One to avoid I guess, I have a Creasey in my to read list, looks like he'll be slipping down the pile,

    Wayne.

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  4. One of your fine reviews warning us about a weak effort or book better left on the shelf. Many thanks as always.

    Oh, and happy Labor Day to you guys!

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  5. I forgot to mention I'm doing "Sherlock Holmes month" at Tip the Wink, in case you want to drop by. I'll be doing a few more posts than usual.

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  6. His output was extraordinary - did anyone even come close to matchign his output? He used about two dozen pseudonyms, right? The JJ Marric ones seem to be the most often poraised but not read one yet!

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    1. Kathleen Lindsey wrote over 900 books in her lifetime using several pseudonyms. She wrote crime, romance, supernatural and mainstream novels. The bulk of her work was in the romance field. As "Hugh Desmond" she wrote some very mediocre crime and detective novels that betrayed her romance writer's leanings. I read one and that was enough. A PACT WITH THE DEVIL was so similar to a Dennis Wheatley novel I am convinced she stole the idea from him. Georgette Heyer also accused her of plagiarism. I'm betting she stole from everyone. There's no way anyone can write that many books without either stealing or recycling plots from one own's writing as Creasey did repeatedly.

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