Having spent many childhood holidays (and a good deal of time since) on the North Wales coast, I was delighted to learn of the existence of a book boasting the wonderful title The Great Orme Terror. For those unfamiliar with Llandudno and its environs, I should explain that the Great Orme is a rocky promontory close to that charming seaside resort. I had no idea that it had featured in a crime novel. But Garnett Radcliffe produced The Great Orme Terror in 1934, and thanks to that splendid publisher of Forgotten Books, Ramble House,I've now read it. Ramble House specialise in rescuing lost books, and as a result of their initiative, novels by the likes of Rupert Penny and Hake Talbot, both notable Golden Age writes, have become available again at modest cost. But Garnett Radcliffe, an Irish-born specialist in weird tales, was not your typical Golden Age writer.
So, where and how do I begin to describe this book? You could call it a guilty pleasure, I guess, though that's being rather kind. At around the same time that Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley and Dorothy L. Sayers were doing their utmost to raise standards of sophistication in crime writing, Garnett Radcliffe was moving relentlessly in the opposite direction. Lurid thrills were his forte - nobody could describe The Great Orme Terror as sophisticated.
"Fiction in any form,has always intended to be realistic," according to Raymond Chandler in his famous essay The Simple Art of Murder. Had he read The Great Orme Terror, he might not have expressed himself so boldly. And yet Radcliffe does make plenty of references to places I know well - Mochdre, Llanrwst, Abergele, Rhos and so on - which suggests he thought he might make his story more credible if he rooted it in recognisable locations.
But really - what a story! It begins with the arrival in Wales of Dr Constandos from the Middle East, who brings remarkable news for the lovely young tennis player Mona and her admirer, the monocled Lord Basil Curlew about golden treasure in a Spanish galleon sunk just off the Great Orme. Mona reckons she has a moral right to the gold (I really wasn't convinced about that) and she and Lord Basil determine to find it. Unfortunately, various villains are also after the loot - and they include characters such as a nasty chap with green fingers known as The Lizard, the mysterious and bestial Gravenant, and assorted examples of Johnny Foreigner. The local cop, Superintendent Fibkin, really isn't much use at all, when faced with such devilish adversaries..
The bad guys have at their command, among other things, an army of weird death-robots, and mean to stop at nothing -certainly not torture and murder - to get their wicked way. Much of the drama unfolds (and here I, like Radcliffe I suspect, lost the plot completely) in a house at the foot of the Great Orme which rejoices in the name of Sperm. As Lord Basil memorably declares, "This uncertainty about Mona is like a damn toothache. I'm going to find her if I have to shoot up Sperm like a fellah in Wild West show. I'm - er- deuced fond of that kid." That might just be the most extraordinary piece of dialogue I've ever read. Words fail me, but they certainly didn't fail Garnett Radcliffe....