DEXTER DAYLE &
The PICADILLY NOVELS
We’ve had the privilege of publishing some true rarities here at Dancing Tuatara Press, but among the rarest material we’ve handled is the present book, kindly supplied by Philip Harbottle. Certainly the thrillers targeted to the lending libraries are difficult to come by, volumes from Herbert Jenkins, Wright & Brown and others by authors such as R.R. Ryan and Mark Hansom can sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars in their first editions, such is their scarcity. But how about a series of books so scarce that out of over three hundred titles published between 1935 and the dawn of the 1950s than two-dozen are currently being offered for sale on the Internet. Think about that for a second, less than ten per cent of the total series are being offered through a site that hosts literally thousands of booksellers throughout the English-speaking world . . . The series I’m referring to are the “Piccadilly Novels” published by Fiction House.
Cheap paperbacks, mostly thrillers, romances, adventure stories, or westerns; the “Piccadilly Novels” were short “novels” of generally 30,000 to 45,000 words. Cheaply made and designed to be read and then discarded, these books vanished by the thousands into war-time paper drives or were just read to pieces. Unlike the American Pulps, which even in the 1920s had people who collected specific genres, such as westerns, science fiction, or even adventure stories, there doesn’t seem to have been any sort of equivalent group in Great Britain, save for the science fiction collectors. Thus most of the Piccadilly Novels seem to have been lost to us forever. There are quite a number in the British Library and a few private collections, but I seriously doubt that any truly comprehensive collections can be found in the US.
So who were the authors of these novels? Well, thus far, every single author that I’ve tried to research has come up with “no matches” in any British census. One must assume that the vast majority were house names doled out to a stable of scriveners that could be relied upon to produce product quickly on demand. Certainly not much different from the American pulps, and like the American pulps, there are some real gems buried in huge mounds of forgettable rubbish. Two of those gems are assembled together in this present volume. I owe a huge debt of thanks to Philip Harbottle of the Cosmos Literary Agency for bringing these to my attention. Philip and I had been working on putting together some supernatural collections by the late, great John S. Glasby, when I made mention of the type of thrillers I was issuing in under the Dancing Tuatara Press imprint, things like Garnett Radcliffe’s The Great Orme Terror, Ronald S.L. Harding’s The Library of Death, Arlton Eadie’s The Trail of the Cloven Hoof and Anthony Rud’s The Stuffed Men. I mentioned that I’d love to include some more “super criminal” material along the lines of some of the novels of Edmund Snell and Gunnar Johnston and he mentioned these two novels by Dexter Dayle.
I’d never heard of Dexter Dayle and research quickly confirmed my suspicions that no such person existed . . . Whoever he was, the writer known as Dexter Dayle churned out several thrillers for the Piccadilly Novels and vanished without a trace. Trying to find records from a defunct company some seventy years after the fact might be possible for someone in the UK, but for me on this side of the pond, there’s just no way that the results of such a search could justify the expenses that would be incurred. What we do know, is that “Dexter Dayle” had a deft hand at getting all the necessary characterization and plot elements condensed in a short space. The Piccadilly “novels” are hardly more than substantial novellas, so there’s no room for wasted words or flowery prose.
In these two novels we have the recurring character of Y-33, a hyper-competent British agent well equipped to deal with the super-criminals and their devastating devices. Not unlike the work of Gunnar Johnston, Dayle quickly sets up the action, provides enough character detail to differentiate the players and then it’s off to the races! While hardly great literature, there is an exuberance about the Dexter Dayle stories that calls to mind Wayne Rogers work on Operator #5. The super weapons, while implausible, are given a consistency that works, and the arch-fiends that stalk through the pages of these books are memorable to the point that one sort of wishes they might show up for a return engagement.
Agent Y-33 remains something of a cipher, calling to mind the American Secret Agent X. This is a minor cavil as the author has to pack a lot into 40,000 words and include the sub-plot of a love interest. For my money, we could have dispensed with the romance elements in favor of a sharper portrait of Y-33 and his adversaries, the Red Ghost and the Black Cowl. Still, I think you’ll agree that these twin novels of menacing super-criminals are very enjoyable and suitable addition to the Dancing Tuatara Press catalogue of thrillers!