R.R. RYAN REVEALED

 

What a long strange trip itís been . . . I first became aware of the book that you hold in your hands nearly thirty years ago . . . It was nearly a decade after learning of its existence that I was finally able to read a copy and another decade after that to have read enough the authorís other work and that of her contemporaries to properly place this novel in its historical context. That is to say, that I was finally able to concur with my late friend, Karl Edward Wagner that The Subjugated Beast is, if not truly one of the thirty-nine best horror novels of all time, definitely a classic that deserves a much wider readership than it has previously been accorded.

We canít really discuss R.R. Ryan without an explanation of ďthe Wagner ListĒ and how it has prominently figured in the last two decades or so of small press publications. In the pages of The Twilight Zone magazine eminent author/editor/publisher Karl Edward Wagner composed a list of the thirty-none best horror novels, broken up into three sub-groups; supernatural horror, non-supernatural horror, and science fictional horror . . . The list isnít really Karlís selection of the thirty-none best novels, rather it his use of the magazine as a bully pulpit to call attention to works that might otherwise have been overlooked. The list breaks down into books that are as common as dirt, somewhat difficult to locate and the downright impossible . . . Among this latter group are names such Philip George Chadwick, Mark Hansom, E.H. Visiak, Alan Hyder, J.U. Nicolson, Walter S. Masterman and of course, R.R. Ryan . . .

So rare are these titles that in the case of Mark Hansom, Karl had only read one of the authorís books when he composed the list and as it turns out, itís far from the authorís best. In the case of Ryan three books are cited, one in each category a truly admirable record. All three of Ryanís novels can with equal accuracy be considered as belonging to the weird menace genre, though Echo of a Curse contains actual supernatural elements, something that was for the most part eschewed by the weird menace authors. While attempting to cite influences without any direct evidence is often a mugís game, in the case of Ryan it seems relatively clear to say when certain influences are reflected in the authorís writings . . . After the deeply flawed debut novel, The Right to Kill, her second book, Death of a Sadist shows her becoming comfortable with the subject matter of insanity and perversion. Her antagonist, Selwyn Maine is a truly evil man, taking an unholy delight in the debasement of Trevor Garron and the heroine, Edna Ferrar . . . Maine is in a position of power relative to both of the young lovers and is putting Trevor through an on-going ďpunishmentĒ, the nature of which is never clearly spelled out, though there are strong hints that it is a brutal homosexual degradation that Trevor is subjected to.

With her third novel, Ryan is clearly in control of her material and Devilís Shelter would have easily fit in one of the US weird menace magazines such as Terror Tales or Dime Mystery. In fact, it is so perfect a fit for the weird menace template that one must assume that Ryan was familiar with these American pulps. This brings us to her classic trifecta of Freak Museum, the present volume and Echo of a Curse. All three are nearly flawless in execution and each pays homage to a particular niche of the horror genre. The last, Echo of a Curse, is filled with Lovecraftian touches, super imposed on Ryanís usual themes of madness and perversion. Freak Museum is a perfect weird menace yarn, right down to the touches of the mad science masking espionage efforts. Indeed, one could easily see the story serialized in the pages of Dime Mystery Magazine right alongside similar fare by Wayne Rogers or Wyatt Blassingame. The present novel is a tour de force of psychological terror, starting prosaically enough that one is lured into a false complacency before Ryan turns up the volume and piles horror upon horror, particularly in the last third of the book where the pace can only be described as a breakneck roller-coaster ride to Hell!

One more book followed under the Ryan byline, and were there room for a fourth book on Wagnerís list, No Escape would surely occupy that spot. No Escape is perhaps the most realistic in tone of Ryanís novels and much more powerful for that. A true masterpiece of melodrama, No Escape is an extremely unsettling and powerful book. We donít know how the book was received by readers, but it marked the last appearance of the R.R. Ryan name as the author took a short break only to return a few years later as ďKay SeatonĒ. Itís in the publicity material surrounding Ms. Seaton that the truth to R.R. Ryanís identity began to slip out . . . Thereís a mention of her writing the novels and her father preparing them for publication. And here we have the answer to the riddle that has plagued genre scholars since the 1980s! Ramsey, Dwayne and I were right, R.R. Ryan was a woman. The gentlemen who identified Ryan as being Evelyn Bradley were also right . . .  Itís clear that Denice Bradley-Ryan sent her manuscripts to her father for editing and then for handling the sale to Herbert Jenkins . . . Obviously, a successfully published playwright was going to command a bigger payday than a young lady starting out in the field. As to what happened at Herbert Jenkins that necessitated the reinvention of the author as ďKay SeatonĒ at a new publisher weíll likely never know. It could simply be a matter of wartime paper shortages causing cuts to the whole line or it could be that the author who seemed by nature to want to compartmentalize her writing felt a new name was needed with a new publisher.

Iíd like to digress for a moment and discuss Ryanís other novels, those as Cameron Carr and John Galton . . . While they can certainly be said to be ďthrillersĒ, they are much more low key than the Ryan material and this may well explain the additional pen-names. I myself cannot detect why she would have considered the Galton novel as incredibly different for the Carr books, but I assume that there was a reason clear to the author. This brings us to another matter that has not been previously discussed, that of short stories . . . While it is certainly possible that Ryan never authored any short stories, Iíve found that even those authors who made an effort to avoid the form usually wind up writing something . . . Even writers like John Blackburn and Walter S. Masterman who believed that any idea that was worthwhile was worth turning in to a novel wrote at least one or two . . . Did Denice Bradley-Ryan write any short stories?

Not that we know of . . . Though I suspect a close examination of certain papers may lead us to some interesting discoveries. Very possibly her father gave her the accurate advice that if you can consistently write and sell novels, short stories are a waste of your time. Equally possible is that she did write some under yet another pseudonym. Where would these have appeared? Well, if they were mainstream fare, thereís any number of British periodicals that could have served as markets and there are literally hundreds of bylines that have not been conclusively identified. If she kept to the thriller, particularly with the strong erotic overtones common to her novels, then the number of potential markets drops dramatically.

Did she appear in the U.S. weird menace magazines? Itís certainly possible, Iím supposed to be somewhat of an expert on the genre and there are at least a dozen minor names that Iíve been unable to reconcile with any known writers. How about the Creeps series? Possible, but unlikely, the dates would be early in Ryanís career and there are only a couple of names that I havenít identified. Might there have been something in Weird Tales? Now thatís getting into the realm of possibility as there are a number of names that Iíve never been able to reconcile. Still, would a woman who had her father handle her business in her native country have bothered with attempting international sales to a low-paying market? Hardly seems worth the effort. My opinion, for what itís worth is that any short fiction authored by Bradley-Ryan was likely very much of the mainstream and published in the U.K. It can only be hoped that as papers are examined more light is shed on this subject.

Why the cessation of writing after the four Kay Seaton novels? We have an author who we can see progressively grow more confident with her material and more polished as an author. Why stop at such a young age?

Well, we do know that Evelyn Bradley committed suicide in 1950. Such a thing is always difficult for family members and we know from publisherís notes that ďKay SeatonĒ relied on her father to ready her novels for publication. Just what exactly that means wasnít explained, but I have a feeling that it meant some progressively minor editorial work and typing the manuscripts in acceptable format for submission. In these days where almost everyone has a keyboard in front of them, itís become easy to forget how terrifying typing may be to one who hasnít done it . . . I clip along at a pretty comfortable rate these days, but I recall a time when the idea of typing forty words a minute was unthinkable . . . Is it possible that without her fatherís help, the whole writing game just seemed too daunting? It may be that weíll learn the real answer someday, but for now, even without short fiction, we can certainly look to Denice Jeanette Bradley-Ryan as leaving us with a very memorable body of work

 

 

John Pelan

Winter Solstice

Gallup, NM