|Douglas V. Duff
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The Many Lives of Douglas Duff
DUFF 1901 1978
I believe that it was in 1906 that the family came home to England and then Douglas and his younger brother Lewis went to school at the Convent of the Visitation in Bridport, Dorset.
He entered the famous training ship HMS Conway in 1914. At the age of 15 in the year 1916 he joined the Merchant Navy as a cadet for he was determined to go to war. He was sent to the Thracia trading between Liverpool and the Mediterranean. On March 27th, 1917 the Thracia was torpedoed in the Bay of Biscay. At the age of 15 and a half my father was sole survivor and, for a while, was posted as killed in action. After recovering at the family home in Ireland he went back to sea. This time he served as a midshipman and, in an encounter with German U boats, he had his leg broken.
When shipwrecked from the Thracia he had made a vow to dedicate his life to God if he was saved. Thus he entered the noviciate of a teaching order of monks at Deeping St James in Lincolnshire. However, after 22 months he left, for he discovered that he had no vocation for that kind of life. In addition he found that he had no liking for the discipline and that he resented the vow of celibacy.
After this he joined the Royal Irish Constabulary. In the confusion of Irish politics of the time this was a strange decision. However, it is as well to remember that sympathies and loyalties in the Irish situation were often pulled in many directions. Indeed his Uncle Edward was the High Sheriff of Longford yet he had helped in hiding IRA members. In Douglas own immediate family his father was angry that he had ever become a monk and his mother was cross that he had left the monastery.
He left the RIC when it disbanded in 1922 and joined the Palestine Police. Eventually he made his way up through the ranks until he was in command of the police in Jerusalem .He met my mother, Janet Wallace, who was a nursing sister in Nazareth. He first heard of her when she was reported as repelling an attack on her hospital with a broom ! They were married in Scotland in 1932.
After Palestine Douglas expected to get a post in the Jamaican Police but he had contracted malaria and was not fit for that sort of tropical duty. Instead he and my mother set up home in Dorset where my sister and I were born. He needed to earn a living and so took up writing and journalism - at one time he was sent to interview Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopa.
As the Second World War inevitably approached he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Supplementary Reserve. This later became the RNVR. At first he took command of Grey Mist as part of the Dover Patrol. Next he was then appointed to the Staff of Admiral Andrew Cunningham, Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. Under Cunningham he carried out various duties, serving as Naval Officer in charge at Derna, and then as officer in command of the Western Desert Schooner Flotilla running sailing schooners which were breaking the blockade of Tobruk.
He was next put in command of H.M.S. Stag (N) whose duties included netting the Suez Canal. In 1943 he was transferred home and appointed Staff Officer Operations (2) in Falmouth. From there he went to the Irregular Warfare Department of the Admiralty stationed at Teignmouth. He was demobilised in November 1945.
His first wife, Janet, died in 1960. He later married Eveline Rowston who had been a major in the Q.A.R.N.N.S. (Queen Alexandras Royal Naval Nursing Service.)
He continued writing, broadcasting and television work until his death in 1978.
He wrote about 100 books in his lifetime as well as 2 autobiographies May the Winds Blow and Bailing with a Teaspoon which are both still available on used book sites on the Internet.
Elizabeth OReilly (nee Duff)
Two of the recent correspondents to Collecting Books and Magazines have raised additional information about the life and works of the author Douglas V. Duff.
The first of these, Jim Herlihy of Ireland, contacted us about a missing book from the list that was given on these pages. This was "Harding and the Mountain Treasure", a copy of whose dust-jacket can be found here. Thus we can solve one Harding mystery but must immediately raise another that our readers may be able to put to rest. The British Library records that there are 5 books in the Jack Harding series. However, I have only been able to record four titles 1. Harding of the Palestine Police. 2. Harding and the Mountain Treasure 3. Harding and the Screaming Mantle 4. Jack Harding's Quest. The fifth book title , whose action must lie somewhere between book 1 and book 4, has so far eluded our searches. Perhaps you know it and we can add it to the records on these pages.
Jim Herlihy also uncovered some very interesting facts about Douglas Duff's early life. The ship that Duff was on during World War 1 and from which he was the only survivor when it sank was called the S.S.Thracia. Jim pointed out that you can now use a search engine to see details of an underwater dive to the wreck off Britanny. Using the words "S.S. Thracia " will also lead you to a remarkable document which is a scan of the original handwritten record of the French sailors who rescued "Douglas valder duff" from the sea. Jim also send on a copy of a photograph of Douglas Duff when he was in the uniform of the Palestine Police, which we reproduce here.
John Gaunt's reminiscences about some childhood time spent in the company of Douglas Duff reminded me that I had neglected to trace those books that were written under his various pseudonyms. Some time ago I had used the British Library's Catalogue to uncover the most obvious of these. Here they are with the books he wrote under his pseudonyms:-
Here are some of the dust-jackets. Some of the books were already in my collection. I had suspected their authorship but had never done anything to prove it. The British Library saved me the job.
You can see that the years between 1947 and 1951 were extremely busy ones indeed. A brief count will reveal he wrote 13 books under these known pseudonyms whilst still turning out 19 under his own name, including the entire "Bill Berenger" series and volumes of autobiography.)
Clinton China Coaster" by PeterWickloe
The escape from Swachow is made in the nick of time and during a remarkable typhoon. The barquentine makes a run for the south and the book becomes a story of remarkable endurance by Casper and Ah Fong. Their troubles are not over when they make a landfall at a remote island, where they find themselves prepared as sacrifices to a strange island cult ! Only some remarkable stage trickery by Ah Fong allows Casper to turn the tables and to allow them to return to safety and civilization once more.
Urchin's Second Charter by Douglas Stanhope
There is a long trek to a remote mountain stronghold where they find the situation complicated by the rivalry between so-called "Saint" and an old hag who is a traditional mother-of-the-people witch-doctor who holds enormous power. A radio message tells Bill and Amos that the Sea Urchin has been attacked by other scientists who are on the trail of the marvelous and invaluable medicine. At this point in the story the two heroes are suddenly cast into a prison. Thus they need to escape from the prison fortress, cross a crocodile-infested rivers and then dodge the rival organisation who have apparently sunk their schooner and killed their friends.
The fact that there are several more "charters" to come in the saga should soon relieve your anxiety about their survival.
After the flood of stories as Duff moved into the 1950s, the pseudonyms seem to drop out of usage and perhaps any dispute with Blackie had been settled by this point. The dust-jacket of "The Ruses of Ruby-Anne" makes this interesting contribution to the Duff career story :-
"When the author of this book formed one of the panel in Television's 'What's My Line' he startled the chairman by speaking to one of the challengers in Arabic."
Duff's appearances on 'What's My Line' are not recorded on the information you can find on line. However, 'What's My Line'; first appeared in Britain in 1951 just after the purple patch of his writing career that we have recorded here. Perhaps his television appearances are another reason why Duff gave up the pen-names.
His use of "Mainsail" as his name as editor for the Burke series called "Fifty Famous Sea Stories" allowed him to bring together a collection of classic sea stories by Melville, Kingston, Henty, Ballantyne and many more without compromising his work for Blackie and Nelson. And, so, I thought the story of his many identities had now come to an end. The British Library revealed no more known pseudonyms.
Two years ago in a small second-hand bookshop in the town of Whitby I learned that I was wrong.
Amongst the few books that fell into my area of interest was "The Long Haul" by Alan Paxton. The dedication at the beginning of this book in the common or garden "Abbey Rewards" series was to "Stella B. Buckwalter who, young in heart, has always liked the young books I have written."
I was sure I had seen this dedication before but I couldn't be certain. I bought the book and took it home. I can now confirm that in "Sea Urchin's Second Charter" the dedication runs thus, "To Stella Buckwalter in the hope that this yarn may interest her ever-youthful spirit."
In "Harding's Mountain Treasure" it reads "To one of my youngest friends, Stella V. Buckwalter, I dedicate this tale for boys of all ages, in the hope that she will enjoy it."
Having read the book I can now say that Alan Paxton is definitely another name for Douglas Valder Duff. So many of the old favourite themes and incidents crop up again. The story begins in H.M.S Harlech, a Cadet Training School closely based on H.M.S. Conway. Tim Nuttal and his brother Alistair are cadets who have a father who served with the Royal Navy in spite of the fact that they are citizens of the South American Republic of San Ignacio. Indeed the entire family are sailing home to San Ignacio in their ketch Mantlet for the summer holidays. When you learn that the other member of the family is sister Janet (It is that name Janet again !) you can feel Duff weaving the old story one more time.
Encounters with an underwater volcano (see "The San Matteo" and various others) and with sea serpents "(see "Sea Serpent Island") take us down to familiar territory. The magnificent description of the small yacht's battle with a hurricane echoes the ones to be found in "Ocean Haul" or "Casper Clinton". The clinching moment for me came when the two boys take their dismasted vessel into safe refuge at the Isla Jehannum, the former prison island, which we have already seen visited by Bill Berenger and Adam MacAdam. Uncovering a missing treasure before the completion of the voyage is, of course, no more than we would expect from the versatile heroes of any of Douglas Duff's stories.
So, the question
is, if Alan Paxton was one unrecorded pseudonym of
Douglas Duff how can we be sure there aren't any more
books and identities to be discovered ? I shall continue
BOOK LIST See comments below re "Hardings Mountain Treasure" - (later ...) title corrections, see Steve Rudge comment below.
The first stirrings of his career as an author took place during the 1930s where his focus was very much on Palestine, describing the people and the places that he had come to know so well. His work included both fiction and non-fiction. His first series hero for children appears to be John (Jack) Harding whose adventures ranged between England and the deserts of the Middle East. Later stories also had a South American flavour with his other popular heroes Bill Berenger and Adam MacAdam deeply involved with life on that continent.
Although Douglas Duff had a detailed knowledge of all things nautical, he did not restrict himself to writing exclusively about the sea. Indeed some of his novels would be classed as science fiction and one or two would even fit into the lost race category. Throughout his career as an author he continued to diversify, providing his readers with volumes of autobiography and true tales of the sea as well as the childrens stories for which he was justly famous.#
The San Matteo
MacAdam is befriended by a gentleman on the train journey to Plymouth. The man then offers to drive him from the station to the ferry, but manages to drug MacAdam with some suitably modified tea. MacAdam awakes to find himself in a dungeon. He is soon joined by two more prisoners who turn out to be members of his crew. Meanwhile impostors assuming their identities go aboard ship to prepare to set sail.
Needless to say, MacAdam escapes and manages to raise an alarm. Word gets back to the ship and the impostors scarper, including the original skipper, who was in on the plot. MacAdam is then appointed captain of the ship and is charged with its safe delivery to Yraguay. The mystery of why they wanted to hijack the ship hangs heavily over the story.
Their journey across the sea is a memorable one. Duff's writing style is fast-paced and quite detailed and descriptive of all things sailing. They encounter a huge hurricane, but survive. One of their officers is injured and as they have no modern communications equipment, they have to sail at the height of the storm for shipping lanes to try to intercept any ship that may have a doctor. The officer is badly hurt and may not survive. A wonderful passage of writing describes their decision-making at this point: "Of course it isn't safe," Dupont snarled. "It'll be highly dangerous. We'll probably dismast her and roll her over in the trough when she broaches-to, once we've ripped the sticks out of her! We may get away with it--but it'll take every ounce we've got, and all the seamanship in the world. If we don't risk it, then you'd better tell the sailmaker to roust out a bolt of canvas and stand by to sew young Diego up in it, with a couple of round-shot at his heels to carry him straight down to Davy Jones's locker."
On finding a ship, they learn that their country is under threat of takeover by the very gentleman that befriended MacAdam on the train. The mystery deepens as to the relevance of their ship to the coup...
Later, while drifting in the doldrums, an extraordinary under-sea eruption, best described by the author as very similar to a nuclear explosion, brings giant octopuses to the surface. The ship and its crew are witnesses to a fight to the death between these giant creatures and a whale. The fight spills over to the ship and threatens to sink the ship. They are forced to use the cannon to clear the threat.
On nearing the South American coast, they are spotted by a giant nuclear-powered flying boat, formerly of the Yraguayan Navy, now in the hands of the rebels. This huge craft is described as being able to fly at incredible speeds and is armed with wing mounted missiles. The craft lands and comes alongside and it's crew prepares to board. MacAdam keeps a clear head, realises that they want to capture the ship, not sink it. With 400 year-old weapons , he sends this wonderful piece of modern (1950's science-fiction) technology to the briny deep!
Finally, still not knowing why their ship is wanted by the rebels, they make landfall. They are many miles down the coast from their final destination. Suddenly they are attacked and besieged by ancient Inca warriors. After a period of stalemate, MacAdam goes to meet their chief, only to be clubbed to the ground and then prepared as a human sacrifice. Things are looking bad for our hero, when two members of his crew appear. It turns out that one of them is the long lost brother of the chief! MacAdam is now a hero and is afforded all the assistance that the Incas could muster.
He sets sail for the destination port and arrives exactly on time, to find that all is well in his country and that the coup had been put down. He is later told by the authorities that his ship is carrying four "cobalt" bombs of fifty megatons each, in the keel of the ship........
So what do I think? Well, it sounds crazy, but I really liked it. I bought it for $5 on Saturday and had finished it by Sunday morning. Incredibly, this book manages to mix ancient-times, lost tribes, mythical sea-creatures, science-fiction and nuclear holocaust all into one story. The book zooms along at a fast pace, with lots of action. It does have a habit of suddenly ending one scene the immediately taking up at another point. I think that this is typical of children's adventure stories of this period. All in all, a good read, and good value too. I must keep a lookout for more.... #
Islands of Jeopardy
This is one of Duff's sailing books, though there is a small measure of aviation at the very end. It takes place in the Far East in 1938 though it seems to have been written well after the War. It is basically a story of "young English naval cadet against the Japs" but also has elements of the castaway theme, and "white man against savage natives".
What is of particular interest is that the young Englishman is portrayed throughout as impetuous and foolhardy, and is continually putting his and his companion's life in danger. His fellow castaway, an elderly Chinaman called Hu Ming, is shown to be the wise, sensible one, and he saves both their skins over and over again. If not for Hu Ming, young Jerry Saunders would never have made it.
The novel starts off as a straightforward sea tale, then becomes a Haggardesque "whites v. savages" adventure in the middle (with a hideous native hag, the "Enche Lama", that Haggard would have been proud of), then reverts to a sea/war story in the final third.
While I think this is probably not Duff's best book, it is a gripping adventure tale that never lets up from start to finish. The perils and conflicts are unrelenting so the excitement scarcely ever ceases in this well told yarn. Once I had picked it up and read the first few chapters it was hard to put it down again. I particularly like the "pulp" streak in Duff's writing style. I highly recommend this book to those who like the "Indiana Jones" type of adventure. #
Peter Darington Seaman Detective
(Thames Publishing Co.)
A tramp steamer with a limited number of passengers on board is, of course, the ideal setting for a murder mystery. Two of the stories make use of the confinement that is achieved by a long voyage where no one can have committed the crime but the passengers or the crew. Falling under suspicion himself, Peter remembers the training given to him by his father, senior officer in the Palestine Police. He makes a numbered list of all the clues and weighs up the pros and cons about each suspect. There may be painstaking method but there is also satisfying mayhem as each case is normally resolved not just by deduction but also by fisticuffs. Peter knows how to disarm a desperate gunman and then knock him out with a magnificent uppercut.
Inevitably Peter Daringtons success as a detective brings him to the notice of his superiors, with mixed results. Becoming the pet of the Captain does not make him popular with the Chief Officer of the Roundstone Minster and it also leads to some ragging from his fellow apprentices. His youthfulness counts strongly in his favour, however, when he investigates the case of The Kidnapped Heiress, for who would suspect one of such tender years to possess such tenacity and courage. Indeed, the heiress in question is one Janet Summerthly, the daughter of the millionaire owner of the Red Circle Shipping Line. Soon Peter is moving in exalted circles and begins to harbour thoughts he hadnt expected to trouble him.
He had never bothered very much about girls, but she was so different from all the rest.
As he pursues the criminals in Terror by Night he begins to think about Janet more seriously. She has already proved her courage by seizing an unexploded bomb and rushing outside to throw it into a lake. As he drives along, Not for the first time, Peter realised that she was also an extremely pretty girl.
Here we can see quite clearly where Douglas Duff differs from Percy F. Westerman, that other prolific writer of sea stories whose career overlapped Douglas Duffs for at least thirty years. Duff is not afraid to introduce the female element into his stories and, though the girls concerned play minor roles, they are always strong self-reliant types, whose independent character wins the respect of the hero and forces him to greater efforts to win theirs in return. Janet Summerthly is no swooning maiden. She totes a gun and is prepared to use it. In Westerman stories the lads concerned are lucky if they have mothers, never mind lady friends.
Mere courage and resourcefulness will not be enough for Peter to win Janet. Interestingly he has to overcome his own prejudices and the assumptions of the world he lives in. He forces himself to stop thinking of her he was an apprentice in her fathers employ and she was the owners only daughter. Things such as he had begun to imagine didnt happen. At least, decent fellows didnt let them happen, and that was all there was to it.
In the next short story in the book, Dangerous Mission, Peter leaves England and Janet behind and the Roundstone Minster encounters a troubling political situation in the South American Republic of San Isidore. This again, like the Palestine and Arab connections already mentioned, is a constantly recurring theme in Douglas Duffs stories. The Republic of Yraguay in the Adam MacAdam stories, for instance, brings out the close connection between the United Kingdom and the many Latin American states where Britons have traded, settled and intermarried. The resolution of the mystery in this story concerns a smuggling technique referred to in one of another collection of Duff short stories entitled Heroes of the Sea. The breadth of the authors sea-going experience is never in doubt.
For his success in this story Peter and one of his shipmates are awarded the M.B.E., but what we really want to know is whether the author will reward his hero with the lovely and lively Janet. In Midnight Mystery, depending on your point of view, the signs are not good. Peter is now so sensitive on the subject of the millionaires daughter that he can be provoked into instant anger by his fellow apprentices callous disregard for his feelings. Their constant jokes about his future prospects expose a raw nerve that threatens to make him lose his normal level-headed approach to each problem that crops up. The mystery in this story is one of the authors weakest and the Duff wraps it all up rather tamely without a dramatic climax.
Bill Berenger's First Case
The pace of the first of Bill Berenger's four adventures is breath-taking. Eighteen chapters and 287 pages are crammed with excitement and incidents. There is scarcely ever a pause for reflection and yet the book succeeds in being a story of detection as well as a yarn of high adventure.
The hero, Bill Berenger, is the senior cadet on the Red Diamond Line's merchant -ship, the Chideock Mote, which, at the beginning of the story, is having its cargo unloaded in the port of Santa Monica, the capital city of the republic of San Isidore. Naturally San Isidore is one of the those South American states so beloved of storytellers that is on the brink of a revolution. However, make no mistake about it, Douglas Duff's creation of this fictional world is not a half-hearted one. Rapidly though the action moves, the reader is given the feeling of a real city and of real people, as though the author were drawing from his own memories of Spanish American life. In particular his descriptions of Bill's time amongst the poor people that haunt the Santa Monica harbour area are vividly convincing. The affection that comes over for the honest fisherman Pedro Hernandez and his kind-hearted wife is matched by his disgust at the treatment he receives from Ignacio, the thief and police informer. The broken-down shacks, the junk yards, the rotting wharfs, the shabby mansions, the tumbling tenements, the Spanish forts, towers and the majestic cathedral, all form an important part of the backdrop of Bill's quest for the truth which becomes a fight for survival.
The plot starts slowly with the arrest of the second and third officers of the Chideock Mote for the murder of an Armenian store keeper and the impounding of the ship until all the evidence is collected. For some as yet undisclosed reason it becomes clear that the ship itself has a vital role to play in the coming insurrection. Bill Berenger makes up his mind that it is his duty to use his local knowledge, his ability to speak the Spanish dialect and the training he received from his father in police methods, in order to save the day. However, first he has to make a difficult moral choice. Jumping ship or desertion will mean placing himself outside all the normal laws and guarantees of British justice. It will also mean leaving his comrades in the lurch. If he fails, he faces at the worst death and, at the best, the sure knowledge that he can never return again to his safe and comfortable world.
An investigation of the murder scene carried out by torchlight gives Bill a series of clues which he investigates with both intelligence and thoroughness. The very manner of the Armenian's death is striking. He has been kicked in the windpipe by an expert, a man with skill in Savatte or foot-boxing. All the clues point towards a local underworld boss with the nickname Red Iago. Even when all Bill's evidence is placed in front of the Minister for the Marine, he refuses to let the two officers go. It is clear that there is corruption in high places. The official government and police force are riddled with informers and traitors. It is almost impossible to know whom to trust. Even Bill himself, still in disguise, is recruited to be an assassin, carrying a briefcase full of explosives to the home of the one honest man, Miguel de Valdez.
There are many exciting episodes in this story. Best of all perhaps, is the moment when Bill is attempting to escape from the Presidio prison amongst the chaos of a prison riot. He stands perched on the battlements of the ancient fortress ready to dive into the dark waters below, not knowing if there are rocks immediately underneath him. He has the comforting thought that if he lands safely it will be at the very point where sharks are fed regularly every day ! Later there is a high-speed chase in patrol boats in Santa Monica's narrow harbour.
Strangest of all, perhaps, is the fact that the book reaches page 227 before Douglas Duff decides to introduce the heroine into the story. Her name is Janet Eve Wallace and she is a young American whose father owns important oil concessions in the hinterland of San Isidore. She is a girl of courage and determination, leaping across rooftops and down staircases with only a moment's hesitation. The book ends with the two young people looking forward to meeting up again.
Berenger to the Rescue
Where the first story in the quartet was set in the big city of Santa Monica, this adventure is very much one of the wide open spaces. In fact the sheer scope of the action is one of its most attractive features. The detective element is contained in the first few chapters and, it has to be admitted, this is the weakest part of the whole book.
Bill Berenger is back in England once more, hoping for some shore leave so that he can see his newly acquired girlfriend, Janet Eve Wallace, visiting London with her millionaire parents. However, an invitation that can't be turned down takes the unfortunate cadet to Cornwall and the home of the chairman of the shipping line, Sir Alan Pascoe. Sir Alan's son, Geoffrey, has been kidnapped and Bill is asked to help track him down. The kidnappers are the revolutionary organisation, the Green Camisardos, who are once again trying to overthrow the democratically elected government of San Isidore. Sir Geoffrey's ships are to be used to import over 600 German mercenaries and, if he does not cooperate, the head of his son will be sent to him by registered post. Worse than all of this is the news that Red Iago, the villain of the first book, has escaped from the island prison of Isola Jehannum.
Once more Bill begins his investigations by
meticulously noting all the details of Geoffrey's
disappearance. His conclusions lead him to believe that
the kidnappers must be staying at the nearby luxury
Headlands Hotel. Immediately he decides to gain
employment there as a "Boots". First of all,
however, he makes a trip to London and this is where the
plot creaks with improbability. As he travels up on the
Cornish Riviera Express by chance he finds himself seated
at the same dining table as three of the enemy kidnappers
! Of course, they don't realise who he is and chat away
in Spanish, little realising that he is word-perfect in
that language. In London there is little time for romance
with Janet Eve, though there are signs of increasing
affection between the hero and heroine.
It is also at the end of the story when you have time to reflect that you realise that Bill Berenger has adopted at least four different disguises (including the habit of a nun !) and killed up to a dozen men. He has crossed many different terrains the midnight streets of Pimlico, the windswept moorlands of Cornwall, the sands and jungle of the coastal plain, the high sierras of the Irredentas, the cataracts of a mountain river in full spate, and that all these landscapes have been convincingly and interestingly described. Whatever the disadvantages of using a fictional country, Douglas Duff gives you a wonderful impression of a mighty continent whose scale is quite awe-inspiring. And I haven't even mentioned the underground Inca man-traps !
Bill Berenger Wins Command
On board the British cargo vessel, the Messack Mote, a murder has taken place. A harmless old man has been put to death. The fact that he was the Chief of Staff of the San Isidore Armed Forces means that the event is political dynamite. Already the Red Diamond Company has developed an unenviable reputation for danger and disaster in the great republic of San Isidore. Its ships disappear and accidents happen with inevitable frequency on their railroads and in their mines. Though promoted to second mate, Bill Berenger finds that before joining his new ship in Santa Monica, he must try to solve the crime that threatens to condemn the British company to further censure and eventual oblivion. Once again Douglas Duff starts his book with detection in a confined space and then opens it up into a rip-roaring adventure.
Apart from the Captain of the Messack Mote the other officers are skeptical of the efforts of "Young Sherlock", as they sneeringly call Bill. To their consternation his systematic method of listing the clues and the suspects once again pays dividends. No sooner have he and the captain made the necessary arrests than Bill decides that the only way for him to overcome the saboteurs who are ruining the Red Diamond line is to go under cover disguised as Blomberg, one of the murderers. And from that point onward it is a search for the mysterious "El Grande" who has his own plans for taking over the giant South American republic.
In very quick order Bill becomes a burglar and then a truck driver. He gradually uncovers the clues in the grand conspiracy but his only safety lies in everyone believing that he is dead. This includes Janet Eve, his girlfriend. Both Bill's friend, Valdez, and Janet Eve' s parents believe Bill is dead and can't face telling her. So one day, when a letter arrives out of the blue, the girl is both dismayed and then rejuvenated. Things have now progressed so far in their relationship that he calls her by a special pet name "Jayee".
As the convoy of trucks climbs higher up the roads in the Cordilleros Ultimos Bill realises that all his predictions about what was about to happen have gone astray and that he is getting further and further away from any help and from the girl that he loves. To get back down to civilisation once again involves some of the most exciting writing in the whole series sufficient to say it involves an ice-yacht, a frozen water fall and an encounter with savage forest Indians. The finale of the story happens at sea in "The Port of Missing Ships" and, at the end of the adventure Bill is told he will have to make up his mind whether he wants to be a detective or a sailor. Jayee has already made up her mind that he will be neither and Bill is wise enough not to contradict her.
All the usual ingredients are present but, whilst the mountain adventures are up to the old standard, the last section on board ship is an anti-climax.
Berenger's Toughest Case
Having outwitted Red Iago in two adventures and
disposed of El Grande in the third, Bill takes on the
most dangerous villain of all in the fourth and final
story. This man is called the Fire Seraph and he is
completely insane. Summoned to the head office of the Red
Diamond Line Bill is told by the Chairman that it is his
job to ensure that the Melplash Mote with its cargo of
United Nations atomic weapons gets safely to the Republic
of San Isidore.
An Overview of the Series
In the opinion of this reviewer the first two stories in the series are by far the best. The contrast between the city adventures of the first case and the great outdoors of the second demonstrates Duff's versatility. I can recommend these without reservation. The third story has its moments, including the splendid ice-yacht episode and the last shows signs of tiredness and, without doubt, is the weakest. It's time that Bill settled down with Jayee and raised a family in San Isidore, a country that should at last be free from the perpetual danger of armed revolution.
It should be noted that quite a few of the details of these Berenger stories had already been given an airing in "Peter Darington Seaman Detective". This includes calling the heroine Janet ! On another lighter note Duff obviously enjoyed an in-joke for one of the apprentices in "Berenger Wins Command" was called Dick Valder. Valder is, of course, Douglas V. Duff's unusual second name. #
May the Winds Blow (Hollis
& Carter, 16/-) from the Illustrated London News,
p124, Jan. 22, 1949.
From: Graham Sheppard
From: Steve Rudge