Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Grateful Association

After I heard yesterday that distinguished British novelist H.R.F. “Harry” Keating had died, I dashed off an e-note to critic and author Mike Ripley, a friend of Keating’s. Ripley had already penned a fine obituary of the author for The Guardian, but I wondered whether there was anything else he’d like to add. He replied by sending me the photograph of Keating featured on the left, along with this note:
I first met Harry Keating 21 years ago at a publisher’s party. I had published two novels and become crime-fiction critic for The Daily Telegraph. There was Harry, who’d written dozens of prize-winning novels, was chairman of the Detection Club, and had been crime critic for The Times. To say I was in awe was putting it mildly.

I had no need to be. Harry was polite, gentle, and kind, and I was to discover he was always so.

On many occasions we appeared on public platforms together--as critics and as members of the Dorothy L. Sayers Society--and in 2000 we were asked jointly to produce a list of the Top 100 Mysteries and Thrillers of the 20th Century for a special supplement in
The Times. We did so without argument and only minor disagreements over a couple of titles, and the whole exercise was conducted over two weeks by exchange of letters--Harry’s notes being delicately written using a fountain pen given to him by Len Deighton. (He was never one for computers.)

I think he was genuinely pleased when I described his best-known fictional character, Inspector Ghote, as “the Maigret of Mumbai” and I was delighted to hear that four of his earlier novels were to be reissued by Penguin in stylish new covers. Typically, Harry made sure I was sent an advanced set straight from the publishers, but sadly died only days before they appeared in bookshops.

I will keep them next to my copy of
The Murder of the Maharajah, which won Harry his second Gold Dagger in 1980 and which is inscribed: H.R.F. Keating signs, with gratitude over the years, for Mike Ripley.
Ripley adds that he’s “still slightly in shock about Harry--I was with Peter Lovesey on Wednesday and we were talking about him and the history of the Detection Club.”

READ MORE:Fond Farewells: H.R.F. Keating (1926-2011),” by J.F. Norris (Pretty Sinister Books); “H.R.F. Keating, R.I.P.,” by Martin Edwards (‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’); “H.R.F. Keating, 1926-2011,” by Chris Routledge (The Venetian Vase).

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