THE DARK SERIES
|“Your remarks about Peter Cheyney amused me, especially as I have just received a batch of five of his books from the Penguin people in England. One of them, Dark Duet, seems to me damn good...”
Raymond Chandler, October 14, 1949, to: James Sandoe, Raymond Chandler Speaking, University of California Press
The Dark books (including Sinister Errand) are generally recognised as Peter Cheyney’s best work. The eight books, published by William Collins, are a loose series based around the British counter-espionage service during and after the Second World War...
The war-time books have clear-cut if ruthless heroes and villainous under-cover Nazis. In the stories respect is given to the strong, with utter disdain heaped on the cowardly and disloyal, but of course they all get their deserved ends. Post-war, the lines are not quite so clear: Dark Interlude begins with a hero from a previous book as a desperate drunk in a small French town, and the final book, Dark Wanton, centres around a British agent gone bad, after he is no longer needed by the secret service. Other characters have a strong sense of displacement, reflecting the feelings many of the ex-serviemen must have had at that time.
There is a cast of regular Dark characters, notably Michael Kane, Johnny Vallon, Shaun O’Mara and the wonderful Free-Belgian Ernest Guelvada. But the most interesting character is that of the emigmatic director of operations, Mr Peter Everard Quayle even in name he is the barely disguised author himself:
Quayle does not appear in person a great deal, but is felt by his operatives as an omni-present guiding force, aware of their every action before the characters themselves.
Peter Cheyney died in 1951 and Ian Fleming’s James Bond “was born” on 15 January 1952 in Casino Royale. The Dark agents are all physically very attractive (although not always in a conventional way) ruthless both in love and war and hard-drinkers. With the exception of Dark Bahama, all the Dark books are set close to home, and even in the Caribbean heat the motivations and actions of the characters are on a realistic level there are no cat-stroking mad-men plotting to take over the world in a Cheyney story.
As the series progresses, the story lines become more sophisticated, the writing less mannered and the characters fuller, better drawn. These eight books clearly show how Cheyeny’s style was developing up to his untimely death at the age of fifty five. New Cheyney readers would find the latter Dark books a perfect starting point.
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