H.R.F. Keating

I was going to talk about research today, but HRF Keating has died, a friend and a writer I admired tremendously, and so this Wednesday’s Mutterings will be about him.

I met Harry when I was a very new writer, at a conference in Scottsdale.  A couple years later, he came to the Monterey BoucherCon with his lovely wife, the actress Sheila Mitchell, and stayed at my house, writing a short story about a dastardly murder in my hot tub.

Harry’s career spanned half a century, with his first novel coming in 1960, his last just two years ago.  For several years running, I tried to convince MWA to give him a Grand Master award.  Here is what I wrote:

In looking at the list of names granted the title  of Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, I have been struck by one  startling absence: H. R. F. Keating.

The Grand Master  Award, according to the MWA web site, is designed “to recognize not only  important contributions to the mystery field over time, but a significant  output of consistently high quality as well.”  I cannot think of  another writer who meets this criterion more  precisely.

Harry Keating has been a professional writer  all his life.  He worked as a journalist for the Daily Telegraph  beginning in 1956, then became the crime fiction reviewer for The Times, where he remained for fifteen years.  From 1959 to the  present, he has published novels, short stories, screenplays, and critical  and biographical works.

His work, as his  person, is characterized by a gentle eccentricity and humor with an enduring  interest in the mystery as morality story.  However, as with the best  English crime fiction, his willingness to face the stark realities of the  murders he writes about means that even his more “cosy” books (and could a  title such as  Mrs. Craggs: Crimes Cleaned Up be seen as  anything but cosy?) often contain grim touches.  The Detective series  go further, into the frankly gritty, and he has ventured into the realm of  the thriller (The Dog It Was That Died) and the macabre (a number of  his short stories.)

The following is a brief synopsis of  HRF Keating’s contribution to the world of crime writing, and leaves out the  personal touch: Harry is beloved and respected by everyone who comes into  touch with him, and he and his wife, Sheila Mitchell, have consistently  nurtured and encouraged beginning writers, in the United Kingdom, the United  States, and around the world.  His critical works are incisive, his writing is gloriously clever (frankly, his titles alone should qualify him  for a special award) and his lifelong contribution to our field is  profound.  He is also eighty years old, and although age is not always a consideration for Grand Master, it may perhaps be kept in  mind.

I urge you to place HRF Keating at the very top of  your list of names to be considered for the Grand Master  Award.

Yours,

Laurie  King

H. R. F. Keating, Professional  history:

Fifteen years crime books reviewer for The  Times of London

Chairman of CWA (1970-1971)

Chairman  Society of Authors (1983-1984)

President, The Detection Club  (1985)

Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

Winner of  CWA Gold Dagger, twice (1964, 1980)

Winner of CWA Diamond Dagger  (1996)

Written works:

I would not want even to attempt a complete bibliography unaided, but the following gives an idea of Keating’s  scope:

Fiction:

Author of the Inspector  Ghote books

(24 titles, from The Perfect Murder, 1964, to  Breaking and Entering, 2000)

Author of the Harriet  Martens books

(6 titles, from The Hard Detective, 2000, to  One Man and His Bomb, 2006)

Author of 23 other  novels

(from Death and the Visiting Fireman, 1959,  to Jack the Lady Killer, a novel in verse,  1999)

Editor of three short fiction anthologies (1978-1992)

Non-fiction:

Agatha Christie:  First Lady of Crime  (1977)

Reflections on Crime Fiction (ed,  1978)

Whodunit? A guide to crime, suspense, and spy fiction   (1982)

Writing Crime Fiction (1986)

Crime and  Mystery: The 100 Best Books (1987)

The Bedside Companion to Crime  (1989)

Essays and commentaries on writers and writing, too numerous  to name

Film:

“Sherlock Holmes and the  Leading Lady” (1992, television movie)

“The Perfect Murder” (1988  screenplay)

“Storyboard” (1983, television  series)

Short Stories:

Too many to  count.  80? 100?

My plea–out of date, as he continued publishing–came to nothing, and must now serve as his epitaph.

My favorite of Harry’s books are his quirkiest.  A Rush on the Ultimate is about the cut-throat game of croquet.  In Kensington Gardens Once are stories that grew out of Harry’s walks through those London gardens.  But my all-time favorite, an absolute masterpiece of form and clever wit, is his crime-novel-in-verse set in 1935 Punjab, Jack the Lady Killer.

Harry was not well known in the US.  Even in the UK, his kind of novel is not currently in fashion.  But as a writer and as a person, HRF Keating is all that is good in my world.  I will miss him enormously.

Comments

  1. I work in a library in the midlands of England and in my experience H.R.F. Keating is well stocked and read and held in affection. He will be missed by his readers.

  2. Pat Floyd says:

    When I discovered mysteries, H.R.F. Keating was one of the writers I thoroughly enjoyed. He deserved to be a Grand Master.

  3. I agree with kate: as we often discover when the library association publishes its annal figures, what is in fashion at the moment is not always what us library devotees take out week after week!
    HRFK is still quietly beloved.

  4. Laraine says:

    Oh, Laurie, thanks for sharing this eloquent tribute to a man who sounds perfectly lovely. I’ve not read his work yet, but your recommendation brings him to a high point on my to-be-read list. I hope he is reading and smiling in appreciation of your tribute.

  5. Joseph Goodrich says:

    Thank you for a lovely and gracious tribute to the late Mr. Keating. How lucky you were to have known him. He will by missed by friend and reader alike.

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