Years ago I was taught a great book collecting trick by the late Karl Edward Wagner . . . The occasion was a chat about his famous “Wagner List” of the top thirty-nine horror novels that appeared in the pages of The Twilight Zone Magazine and led to a resurgence of interest in the works of such authors as Walter S. Masterman, Mark Hansom, R.R. Ryan and others. I asked Karl, “how do you find this stuff?” or words to that effect and his reply was that where there’s one book of the sort you’re looking for there’s likely others, so if you discover an interesting supernatural thriller, don’t just look for more books by that author, but look at the publisher’s catalogue from that time period and check for promising titles . . .

This approach led me to continually look at titles published by Henry Drane between 1900 and 1930. After all, the brilliant collection The Weird O’ It by Clive Pemberton appeared from this publisher and was joined by Richard B. Gamon’s The Strange Thirteen in 1925. I’ve been able to release the former through my imprint of Midnight House and the latter title has been issued by Dancing Tuatara Press. Among the other Drane titles that I took note of was a volume entitled The Return of the Ceteosaurus by Garnett Radcliffe. My friend and mentor, George Locke actually possessed a copy and was kind enough to give me a run-down on the contents . . . Only the titular tale contained any fantastic elements and as such there didn’t seem to be any reason to spend several hundred dollars simply to obtain the one story . . . However, something about the book stuck in my mind and I finally realized that there was a Garnett Radcliffe active in the dying days of the pulp magazines and that the stories I’d read by this author were pretty good.

A further examination of my collection and notes turned up the information that Garnett Radcliffe was a regular contributor to Weird Tales as well as a couple of the science fiction digest magazines of the early 1950s. With this information in hand I started the slow process of assembling a collection of Radcliffe’s fantastic fiction . . . Somewhere along the line I discovered the small clutch of novels he authored in the 1930s which include the present volume and such thrillers as In the Grip of the Brute, The Thirteenth Mummy and the humorous fantasy The Lady from Venus.  Like most of the British thrillers of the 1930s the target audience was the lending libraries and as a result of this marketing strategy Radcliffe’s books were literally read to pieces and copies are extremely scarce today. As an example, the present volume commands prices in excess of three hundred dollars on the rare occasions that a copy is offered for sale.

The present volume is an excellent example of Radcliffe’s ability to blend the humorous with the spine chilling. Our protagonist, Lord Basil Curlew seems to be a foppish fool, but underneath the ridiculous exterior is a steely reserve well suited to combat a master criminal such as the Lizard. The Lizard is a master criminal in the best pulp tradition, fond of macabre pranks and an early master of robots . . . Robots that are put to dire purposes in the course of events.

It’s a shame that Garnett Radcliffe’s work has been ignored for so many years; he certainly deserves a place on the shelf alongside authors such as Walter S. Masterman, Mark Hansom, and Gunnar Johnston. We intend to follow up this volume with new editions of his other fantastic crime novels and a collection of all of his weird fiction.


John Pelan

Midnight House

Gallup, New Mexico

Summer Solstice — 2012