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Thursday, 29 April 2010

Northern Brightness

Among the delights of research are the incidental finds. Washington Shadow is set in 1945, at a time when John Maynard Keynes was in Washington trying to raise a loan to keep the British economy afloat after the end of Lend-Lease.

This is a quote from the philosopher Wittgenstein. ‘The one way in which the ending of Lend-lease really limits me is by producing a shortage of detective mags in this country. I can only hope Lord Keynes will make this quite clear in Washington’.

Now I already knew that his friend Bertrand Russell (he talked to Wittgenstein when Ludwig was doubting between aeronautics and philosophy) was a fan of murder stories – he claimed they helped him avoid committing his own – but I had missed Wittgenstein’s taste for hard-boiled fiction.

That is hard-boiled. Though he could praise Agatha Christie, Wittgenstein refused to read of a Catholic priest detective – Chesterton’s Father Brown. He wanted pulp fiction.
I was brought up with an appreciation for the American taste for witty lyrics (Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart and so on) , the Marx Brothers films, writers like S J Perlman, Damon Runyon and, of course, Hammett, Horace McCoy and James M Cain; I read a lot of these in the early eighties.

But I now have to confess that I missed the writer Wittgenstein liked most, Norbert Davis. Norbert apparently means Northern brightness, and was a break from the family tradition of Robert – the family were distantly related to Robert Burns. He did not live long. Diagnosed with cancer, Norbert Davis committed suicide in 1949 at the age of forty.

Right now I am writing – I keep away from reading at this stage – but I am looking forward to meeting Norbert later this year in The Mouse in the Mountain, Sally’s in the Alley, and Oh, Murderer Mine . Apparently Wittgenstein admired his use of language, his humour and his lack of sentimentality.

Happy to hear from those who have read him.

1 comment:

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