Monthly Archives: November 2019
Cecil John Street, the author behind the two pseudonyms of John Rhode and Miles Burton, was certainly prolific. Over a 35 year career writing detective novels from roughly 1925 to 1960, he wrote more or less continually at the rate of something like 4 books a year, to end with not far short of 150 novels to his name, or rather to his pseudonyms.
He was at the peak of his popularity in the 1930s and 1940s and I’ve written before about his books published in Services Editions for servicemen in the Second World War. They appeared as part of the long series of Services Editions from Collins White Circle, the books having been originally published in the Collins Crime Club series.
Collins also had a close connection with Albatross Books, the European publisher of English Language novels launched in 1932, to rival the long-established Tauchnitz business. Ian and William Collins were on the board of Albatross and were instrumental in the launch a year later of the Albatross Crime Club. All the titles for this series came from the Collins Crime Club and the books were initially printed for Albatross by Collins in Scotland.
John Rhode featured early in the series, with ‘The motor rally mystery’, a new Dr. Priestley novel, included in the first batch of titles. Numbering for the Crime Club titles started from 101 and ‘The motor rally mystery’ is number 105. ‘The Claverton mystery’ was not far behind at number 114, later in 1933, and ‘The Robthorne mystery’ at number 122, early in 1934.
The first two titles would originally have had a transparent dustwrapper, as on The Claverton Mystery above, although few of these survive and those that do are usually torn and tattered. Later issues had a paper dustwrapper in the same design as the book. Most of the early books in the series are not too difficult to find now, although the Rhode and Burton books seem to be a bit harder, and certainly more expensive than most other books in the series. I don’t think any of the books were reprinted, so all copies are first printings.
Each of the first three books was published in Albatross only very shortly after first hardback publication in the UK and long before any of them appeared in UK paperback editions. After that though, a gap was allowed to build up between first publication in the UK and publication in the Albatross series. So ‘Shot at dawn’, first published in the UK in 1934, didn’t appear in Albatross (as volume 136) until 1935. By the end of that year, with the Crime Club series having reached 45 volumes, there were still only four titles by John Rhode and none by Miles Burton.
That was to change though, as a rush of new titles started to appear in 1936. ‘Hendon’s first case’, another Rhode novel, came first as volume 148 of the series, followed by ‘The milk churn murder’, the first Burton title, as volume 150. From then on a pattern was established of issuing Rhode and Burton titles alternately. ‘Mystery at Olympia’ by Rhode appeared as volume 154 and ‘Death in the tunnel’ by Burton as volume 155, both still in 1936. Then in 1937, ‘Death at breakfast’ by Rhode as volume 161, ‘Murder of a chemist’ by Burton as volume 163, ‘In face of the verdict’ by Rhode as 167, ‘Where is Barbara Prentice?’ by Burton as 178 and ‘Death in the Hopfields’ by Rhode as 186.
Then, as far as I can tell, there was a bit of a pause, accompanied by a change of printer and a change in the numbering system. Volume numbers from 188 to 200 seem never to have been used, and all future Albatross Crime Club titles are numbered in the 400s and mixed in with Albatross Mystery Club titles. The Mystery Club had been launched in 1937 for books that didn’t fit into the Collins definition of what a Crime novel should be, with numbers starting at 401.
Numbers 401 to 409 are all Mystery Club titles published in 1937 and printed in Scotland. But from 410 onwards, Crime Club and Mystery Club titles alternate in a more or less regular pattern, and all are printed in Germany, starting in May 1938. In June ‘Death at the Club’ by Miles Burton appeared as volume 414 and then in September ‘Death on the Board’ by Rhode as volume 422. Volume 436 in April 1939 was ‘Murder in Crown Passage’ by Burton and finally, volume 440 was ‘Proceed with caution’ by Rhode. These later titles seem more difficult to find now, although I’m not clear whether this is because of lower print numbers or because of disruption caused by the war that was about to break out.
Certainly the war ended the series in late 1939 and the final tally of 11 John Rhode titles and 6 from Miles Burton gives a total of 17 books for Cecil Street, just ahead of Agatha Christie and more than for any other author in the Albatross Crime Club series.