John Long Four-Square Thrillers

Yet another new paperback series launched in the busy three or four years after Penguin’s launch in July 1935. Yet another in the Penguin format that I’ve repeatedly referred to – same size, same price (sixpence), typographical cover design with no cover art, dustwrapper in the same design as the cover, and so on. Yet another series from a part of the Hutchinson Group.

Volume No. 1 ‘The Gunner’

It completely baffles me why Hutchinson felt the need to launch another Penguin-style series in addition to the half dozen they already had, and perhaps particularly why they needed another series for thrillers from authors such as Edgar Wallace. The first four books in the John Long Four-Square Thrillers series, launched in September 1938, were all by Edgar Wallace (who had died in 1932). To highlight the point, the back cover of all the books featured an advert for Hutchinson’s Crime Book Society, with a list of titles in the series, including three by Edgar Wallace. Why could the new books not have appeared in that series?

Anyway they did launch another series and had to find a name for it, as usual employing little originality. Previous series from Hutchinson had followed Penguin in using a bird name – Jarrold’s Jackdaw Books and the Toucan Novels. After Penguin’s three coloured bands, Collins had introduced the White Circle and now John Long opted for four squares. Presumably they were attracted by the sense of solidity that four-square evokes, as well as by the prosaic description of the cover design. Except that the design does not really have four squares on it. You don’t need to be a mathematician to recognise that these are four rectangles, but certainly not squares.

Starting with four books by Edgar Wallace was a fairly clear statement of intent about the type of books that was to be expected from this series. The next batch of titles, in January 1939, was more varied in terms of authors, but much the same in terms of style, including titles from Sydney Horler and John Creasey. The 24 volumes in the numbered series from September 1938 to March 1940 included six by Edgar Wallace, five by John Creasey and four by Brian Flynn.

By 1940 of course wartime conditions were starting to bite, publishing programmes were reducing, paper was becoming more scarce and prices were rising. The volumes issued in March 1940 were priced at 7d rather than 6d and later (unnumbered) volumes increased further in price.

The lack of numbering after March 1940, in common with other Hutchinson series in this period, makes it difficult to be sure about exactly how many books were published. The checklist by Richard Williams lists 22 volumes at a shilling, published between September 1940 and around June 1941, but there are question marks against some of them and the books themselves now are very difficult to find. A quick internet search shows not a single copy of any of them currently offered for sale.

Possibly another six appeared around 1942 at 1s 3d, and then the series went into hibernation for the rest of the war, although two books described as John Long Four Square Thrillers appeared in 1945 in the Hutchinson Series of Services Editions, in the normal branding of that series.

Around 1948 to 1949 other books in John Long Four-Square branding appeared at 1s 6d in what was by then effectively a combined series of Hutchinson paperbacks. Again it’s difficult to say exactly how many, but possibly around 15 different titles, again mostly by John Creasey and Edgar Wallace, but also with several horse racing stories by Nat Gould described as John Long Four-Square Racing Thrillers.

Posted on August 16, 2020, in Vintage Paperbacks and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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