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Find The Lady
Big-time racketeer Mike Spagliotti had enjoyed a successful life of crime, managing to evade police arrest. But that life had met a sudden and violent end, when he was found shot through the head in his New York hotel suite. He had seemingly died alone - with the doors of his suite locked. Two of his thugs were standing guard over him in the passage, as usual - and they swore they had heard nothing. That argues that the gun was a silenced one. But they also swore they let no one past them. A perplexing problem for Detective-Inspector Flannel, of Homicide, whose fiery temper was not improved when a troublesome lady newspaper reported involved herself in his investigation!

The Egyptian Tomb
Tony Gilmour and his friends travel to Egypt to investigate the suspicious death of Professor Glenhaven, the father of one of his friends - but they are dogged by enemies who will stop at nothing to ensure that no one discovers the secret of the tomb of Ko Len Tep!

About Norman Firth

English writer Norman Firth was born on 8th October 1920, in Crupsall, Manchester, to Mary and Henry Wesley Firth. His first employment consisted of factory work, and during the early years of the war, he had aspirations to become a writer. His first short story was published under a pseudonym in 1940 and following his marriage in 1944 he became a full-time writer.

He was immediately successful, because he took full advantage of the peculiar British climate of “mushroom” publishing caused by wartime austerity, including paper shortages, which continued for several years after the war finished. Myriad small presses sprang up, hungry for all kinds of genre fiction, both adult and juvenile. Few, if any, of these publishers, strived for literary quality, nor did they pay royalties—only a flat fee.

Firth was a talented and compulsive writer, and was soon averaging 6,000 words a day, selling many short stories to magazines such as Stag and the myriad Gerald G. Swan publications, both adult and juvenile. In 1946 he was briefly an associate editor for the British magazine Galaxy, before publishing his own magazine Gaze, and gained a thorough grasp of writing markets. He adopted the byline of ‘N. Wesley Firth’, adding the middle name of his father to his own.

Like several talented British writers at that time, he decided on a policy of quantity over quality, finding that he could readily sell first-draft material to these small publishers. After all, a mediocre first draft story paid the same fee as a well written one, and in the time taken to polish and revise a single story, another two or three first draft stories could be written and sold.

Firth was commissioned by many small publishers such as Bear Hudson, Curzon, Gerald G. Swan, Hamilton & Co., Mitre Press, Paget, John Spencer, and Utopian Publications to turn out lurid crime, western and science fiction stories. The stories were of all lengths, from short novel or novella length (ca. 30-40,000 words) to short stories of 2,000 to 20,000 word novelettes, and often published in “magazine” formats that changed their titles with each issue, in order to qualify for the maximum paper quotas. Where a ‘magazine’ contained all stories by one writer, that writer was obliged to create (or have foisted upon him by the publisher) a different pseudonym for each story.

Despite their speed of production, several of these novellas and novelettes were vividly exciting, where the author had evidently been seized by a really good idea.

Firth is only one of many writers obliged to work for the post-war UK “mushroom” publishers whose writing has received a bum rap from the critics and literati. His writing has been dismissed unread as dire hackwork and consigned to the literary dustbin, remaining out of print for over sixty years! But this dismissal was based entirely on only a dozen or so science fiction short stories comprising the infamous magazines, Futuristic Stories and Strange Adventures in 1947 (both had only two issues). Published with atrocious lurid juvenile artwork, and printed on shoddy quality post-war austerity pulp paper that was hard to read, they had been commissioned at impossibly short notice by one of his UK mushroom publishers, Hamilton & Co. Immediately on publication these were greeted with howls of derision and outrage, and since noted editor and critic Walter Gillings had earlier revealed Firth as being their sole author in his widely circulated Science-Fantasy Review, Firth’s reputation in the science fiction world was blighted.

As a reader and collector, I myself was someone who went along with the accepted wisdom and ignored Firth. But when I was writing a book on post-war British SF, for the sake of completeness I was obliged to examine his only SF novel, Terror Strikes! (Hamilton & Co., 1946).

The atrociously poor paper (actually see-through) and tiny typeface made this impossible to read comfortably, so I was only able to skip-read it. My recorded lukewarm assessment was: “a routine reworking of Wells’ The Invisible Man.”

A major factor causing Firth to remain in obscurity for many years was the fact that a great deal of best work was hidden behind unknown pseudonyms and house names. This anonymity was a pernicious practice that was forced upon authors by many publishers in post-war Britain.

E.C. Tubb was a writer who also began his career in this post-war austerity publishing climate. In an interview, he told me: “I was a chap who was asked by publishing houses to produce books—or sometimes I went to them. They’d tell me that they’d pay so much, and some of them would offer a little more than the other chap. So you sat down, and did whatever you did as quickly as you could. Now, because publishers were nasty, and grasping and mean (they still are!) the advent of the house name came in. If someone became very popular, the publisher owned the house name, and that’s where the nom de plumes started.

“With Curtis Warren you were ‘King Lang’, you were ‘Karl Marx’ or whatever—half a dozen authors all using the same name! These bylines were distinct from the nom de plume you deliberately chose because you had two stories in one issue of the magazine, so in that case you became ‘Charles Grey’ or somebody else. But the novels started that way, and then of course by the laws of the marketplace, you became that publisher’s author, until somebody else wanted to use you and invented a different name. It became a kind of merry-go-round….

“…Looking back on my early days now, I can see that in the beginning, I was the pawn of the publisher. They said they would give you X pounds, and you took it, or you left it…and if you didn’t, someone else would!”

Some of Firth’s pseudonyms were known or suspected, since where his own name appeared in a ‘collection’, it was odds-on that the remaining stories were his. Known names Firth used include the earliest Earl Ellison stories (which later became a house name), Jackson Evans, Joel Johnson, and Leslie Halward, but so prolific was the author that many more remained undiscovered. Working with my collector colleague Morgan Wallace, I discovered several more by reading contemporary stories and recognizing his style, which was vastly superior to most of his fellow journeymen writers. The more of his work I uncovered, the more impressed I was, and I decided that it deserved to be returned to print…and published under his own name!

Late in 1947 Firth had accepted a lucrative commission from Utopian Publications owner Benson Herbert to write 30,000 words a month of “spicy” stories for his dubious line of men’s magazines. As an added inducement Herbert offered accommodation for the author and his family—his wife and their young daughter, Sheila, who had been born in September 1945—in the basement of his home at Roland Gardens in London. For over a year, things went well. The prolific Firth was not only able to supply endless copy to Herbert, but with a basic income guaranteed from his “pulp” work, he was finally able to begin writing serious novels intended for better markets. But the arrangement was to have a tragic outcome. Sydney J. Bounds, another contemporary author, recalled to me in an interview that:

“He (Firth) wrote virtually the entire contents of the Utopian magazines, one after the other—until he suddenly went down with TB. This was a very serious disease in those days: there was no known cure. Within a matter of weeks, Firth had died, Benson had to act quickly to find a replacement. Since I’d done one or two stories for him, he hired me to supply 30,000 words a month.”

The ailing Firth and his family moved back to his mother’s house in Birkenhead, where he died on 13th December, 1949, with his family at his side. His mother was convinced that Firth had contracted the disease because of his frequenting of the “dusty damp old bookshops in little backstreets in London.” He was only 29 but had published several million words. He continued writing right up to the end of his life, and managed to complete and sell his first full-length crime noir novel, When Shall I Sleep Again?

This was an extraordinarily good novel, intended for mainstream hardcover publication. It was picked up by John Gifford Ltd and published posthumously in 1950. Its quality ensured that it was quickly selected for republication by The Thriller Book Club.

Loosely based on James M. Cain’s “noir” classic The Postman Always Rings Twice, this engrossing adult novel displayed for the first time the true potential of its author. Had he lived, Firth would undoubtedly have gone on to establish himself as a major talent with better publishers. His very last crime novel, This Proud Castle, was also a superior effort. It is one of the earliest detective murder mysteries to include homosexual elements, written when homosexuality was still illegal in the U.K. Completed just before he died, it was never submitted anywhere, but was retained by his wife until she died in 1997, when it passed to Sheila’s stepsister.

Herself widowed at 32, Sheila had emigrated to Australia, and lived there for the rest of her life, after marrying Terry Ings in 1998.

The existence of Firth’s unpublished novel might have remained unknown, until Morgan Wallace, researching Firth’s work, discovered the existence on-line of some “new” short stories attributed to ‘N. Wesley Firth’. He was finally able to establish that their author was actually Firth’s daughter in Australia and managed to trace Sheila in 2012. Answering his letter, Sheila provided the valuable biographical information I have used in this article, together with family photographs. She told him:

“You were right about some of the short stories on the internet being written by me. I published three or four on a website called Authors Den. I also wrote a book, Norman’s War under this name. Why I did this was that I always had this book in me, and it seemed appropriate to use dad’s name.

“His unpublished manuscript is with my half-sister in the U.K. and she has been planning to send it to me for the past year. I will chase her.”

Morgan Wallace brought When Shall I Sleep Again? to my attention as a literary agent in 2013 as a possible candidate for the Linford Mystery Series. On reading the copy he had sent me, I discovered that Firth was actually a talented writer. When Morgan told me of his exchange with Sheila and the existence of an “unpublished manuscript” I immediately wrote to Sheila myself. She readily agreed to be represented by my Cosmos Literary Agency, and thereafter we worked together to uncover and assemble the best of his work for publication in the Linford Mystery Library.

At my request, Sheila finally obtained from her half-sister the battered and fading unpublished manuscript and sent me a photocopy. It turned out to be a hitherto unknown murder-mystery novel. After I had laboriously retyped and edited it, retitling it Murder at St. Marks, it was immediately accepted when submitted to UK large print publisher F.A. Thorpe. I did the same thing with Terror Strikes (actually a first-class crime thriller with ‘routine’ SF trimmings) and this book was also subsequently reprinted by Endeavour Venture Press in 2019. They had earlier issued two of Firth’s short novel Westerns in 2017, Death at Catspaw Mountain and Guns of Calliope. Many of his other Western novellas are set to be released as Ebooks by Wolfpack Publishing.

Sadly, Sheila Ings passed away in November 2018, at her final home in South Yunderup, Western Australia. But she had lived to see her father’s work rediscovered and returned to print, thanks to her dedication to his memory, and was survived by her husband and two grown up children and her “five lovely grandchildren”.

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