This was the last of Mrs Offence’s selections. I opened the Woman in White earlier but am only halfway into it. Meanwhile, this fitted in nicely on a train journey to London.
‘This is a new kind of thriller – a police “documentary” based on real-life happenings.’
Gideon’s Day closely follows senior Superintendant George ‘Gee-Gee’ Gideon of Scotland Yard through one of the more eventful days of his 20-year career.
‘There was a never-ending war between the police and the criminals, a war fought with thoroughness, skill, patience and cunning on each side.’
London’s criminals are busy on the day in question: Gideon tackles mail robberies, burglaries, drugs, and of course murder. Not all the criminals show ‘skill, patience and cunning,’ but Scotland Yard does in its pursuit of its enemies, and Gideon demonstrates that he is an able General.
‘The office was stuffy. April was behaving oddly, you could usually rely on a chilly evening, but even with the windows open it was warm. Gideon had his coat off, his waistcoat open, his tie hanging down, his sleeves rolled up. For once his hair was ruffled. He was talking first into one telephone and then into another, putting down and lifting receivers as if he were juggling with Indian clubs. The smooth transition from one case to the next came much in the way that a brilliant linguist can change from one language to another without any apparent interruption of thought.’
Gideon’s Day is described as one of the earliest police procedurals, and here’s the thing: airlift Gideon and his team out of London and deposit them in Isola, and you have an Ed McBain book. McBain’s first novel Cop Hater came out in 1956. I’ve got no way of knowing if he was influenced by Creasey, maybe there was something in the air that fostered this kind of book on both sides of the Atlantic, but the similarities are fascinating. Scotland Yard is depicted as a beleaguered team dealing with wave after wave of criminals, just like the 87th Precinct. As with McBain, the crimes are chilling yet somehow matter-of-fact. Most shocking are the chapters dealing with a paedophile killer on the run, especially a scene depicting Clapham Common thick with old men with bags of sweets – the children’s parents almost desensitised to the threat.
On the other hand, there’s a curious innocence that the drug Gideon is trying to control is ‘reefer’:
‘He remembered how easy it was to become in need of reefers… you might have your first taste without knowing it, but you’d still be eager for a second, anxious for a third, desperate for a fourth—and there were precious few cures for addiction.’
Meanwhile Gideon allows himself two pipes in the morning, two in the afternoon, and as many as he likes in the evening, and offers suspects a cigarette to calm them down.
In amongst all this, Creasey finds room for some optimistic stories-within-a-story. A bullied and ineffectual curate finds himself angry enough to do something truly rash. A lady’s maid takes pleasure in walking side-by-side with her lady. And Gideon finds himself somehow reconnecting with his wife after a gradual, imperceptible drifting-apart (even the passages on Gideon and his second-in-command Lemaitre’s domestic lives remind me of McBain).
Gideon spawned sequels, a film and a TV series Gideon’s Way, and I can see why. It may have lost its novelty, but it hasn’t lost its narrative drive.
By the way, YouTube has the opening credits and early scenes from the 1958 film version: see http://youtu.be/3ssQYbAUaKA. Jack Hawkins as Gideon and a young Anna Massey as his daughter.
Final destination: A keeper
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.