Posts Tagged ‘1960s Hong Kong’


the eyes around me gavin black 001The Eyes Around Me by Gavin Black ~ 1964. This edition: Harper & Row, 1964. Hardcover. 216 pages.

My rating: 8.5/10

Okay, why have I never come across this writer before? This murder mystery novel set in Red-era Hong Kong was pretty darned fabulous. Instant fan, I am. Now I must track down more…

From his obituary notice in The Independent, August 6, 1998:

Oswald Wynd was a modest man who had little to be modest about. As Gavin Black he wrote superior and literate thrillers – school of Stevenson and Buchan – which were at the same time witty and clever, and moved at a by no means gentlemanly pace…

A “superior and literate thriller” describes this fast-paced novel exceedingly well.

Middle-aged, recently divorced, lush living Scottish shortbread heiress Ella Bain lives in Hong Kong, in a lavish seaside mansion. An outside staircase to her bedroom allows her to receive gentleman callers without offending the sensibilities of old family retainer Kirsty, and by all reports it is a well-used piece of domestic architecture.

Ella is loud, she drinks too much, and though she has proven herself an astute businesswoman, enlarging her already substantial fortune by her occasional managerial visits back to the family factory in Scotland, she occasionally raises eyebrows by her larger than life actions. Long-time platonic friend Paul Harris views Ella with sometimes-exasperated affection; he has turned down her marriage proposal, but remains in Ella’s will as her chief beneficiary, cutting out Ella’s only brother Angus, who enjoys a fortune of his own.

So when Ella is found dead in her bed on New Year’s Day morning by Paul, who squired Ella about town the night before and stayed over at her house, both the police and the intimately entwined Hong Kong society crowd look at Paul with more than a little speculation.

Paul Harris, wealthy in his own right through a series of past speculations and questionably legal activities which I shan’t reveal to you here, resents the assumption that he murdered his friend, and sets out on a quest to clear his name.

This is a vividly atmospheric mystery novel, with a finely detailed setting and memorable (if occasionally rather unlikely) characters. One forgives the over-the-topness because the thing is so gloriously well written for this type of light fiction; Oswald Wynd/Gavin Black spins an exceedingly readable tale.

Paul Harris comes across as a greatly  improved version of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Paul is suave, fast on his feet, good in a fight, exceedingly attractive and attracted to gorgeous women, and (one feels) truly a good guy at heart, despite his somewhat shady backstory. The arrogance which emanates from his fictional counterpart Bond is completely missing; one likes Paul Harris, despite our doubt that he is now a purely lily-white boy, gone all straight and narrow.

I guessed the murderer with surprising ease; I foretold the romantic clinch at the end; as a mystery the thing is decidedly clichéd and predictable, but despite these drawbacks I greatly liked this book.

The author wrote a rather respectable number of novels and thrillers, most set in Asia. I am keen to follow up on my introduction to Paul Harris, who apparently features in all of the Gavin Black-authored thrillers; the Oswald Wynd novels sound intriguing, too, if perhaps a bit “deeper” in theme.

1977’s The Ginger Tree was made into a well-received Masterpiece Theatre 4-part miniseries, and Wynd’s depiction of cross-cultural and mixed race relationships is spoken of very highly in reviews.

For future investigation:

As Oswald Wynd:

  • Black Fountains (1947) (1st novel, winner of $20,000 Doubleday prize for fiction)
  • Red Sun South (1948)
  • Friend of the Family (1949)
  • The Stubborn Flower (1949)
  • When Ape is King (1949) (Wynd’s lone speculative fiction, very rare )
  • The Gentle Pirate (1951)
  • Stars in the Heather (1956)
  • Moon of the Tiger (1958)
  • Summer Can’t Last (1960)
  • Death, the Red Flower (1965)
  • Walk Softly, Men Praying (1967)
  • Sumatra Seven Zero (1968)
  • The Hawser Pirates (1970)
  • The Forty Days (1972)
  • The Ginger Tree (1977)

As Gavin Black:

  • Suddenly at Singapore (1961)
  • The Devil Came on Sunday (1961)
  • Dead Man Calling (1962)
  • A Walk in the Long Dark Night (1962)
  • A Dragon for Christmas (1963)
  • The Eyes around Me (1964)
  • You Want to Die, Johnny? (1966)
  • A Wind of Death (1967)
  • The Cold Jungle (1969)
  • A Time for Pirates (1971)
  • The Bitter Tea (1972)
  • The Golden Cockatrice (1974)
  • A Big Wind for Summer (aka Gale Force) (1975)
  • A Moon for Killers (aka Killer Moon) (1976)
  • Night Run from Java (1979)
  • The Blazing Air (1981)
  • The Fatal Shadow (1983)
  • A Path for Serpents (1991)

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