Two Writers Divided by Water:

The Saga of Mystery in St. James’s Square



To our knowledge, Gilbert Collins and Harold Ellicott Scarborough never met, yet these two authors are responsible for the novel you now hold in your hands. Without the contribution of either author, Mystery in St. James’s Square would never have existed.

The circumstances leading up to, and following, the publication of this novel in 1937 are interesting, and the following parallel chronology of facts concerning the authors and their sole ‘collaboration’ is aimed at giving a new perspective on this very mysterious episode in crime fiction publishing.

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Gilbert Henry Collins was born in Southampton, England, in 1890.

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Harold Ellicott Scarborough was born in Bel Air, Maryland, USA, on October 25, 1897. He was the son of Harold (1861-1944) and Frances Emily Scarborough (1865-1952), and brother of Katherine Crawford Scarborough (d. 1960).[1] Harold Scarborough, père, was a correspondent with the Baltimore Sun and the publisher of The Union News.[2]


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Gilbert Collins volunteered for service in the British Army and served as a Gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery during the First World War. He rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant.[3]

After his military service he worked for the British foreign service in China into the early 1920s. He travelled through China and Japan.


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Harold Scarborough graduated from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, in 1917. He then began a career in journalism, first as a reporter on the Baltimore News from 1917 until 1920. He was posted to the London bureau of the New York Herald-Tribune in 1920, and was the paper’s London correspondent from 1925 to 1927. He became the paper’s European editorial manager in 1928.

Scarborough married Gladys Mary Jones on April 16, 1921. The couple had a daughter, Elizabeth Anne.[4]


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Gilbert Collins began a career as a writer. In the early 1920s he wrote a number of books. Flower of Asia: A novel of Nihon, [5] The Valley of Eyes Unseen [6] and The Starkenden Quest [7] are fantasy novels set in Asia. Far Eastern Jaunts [8] and Extreme Oriental Mixture [9] are accounts of Collins’ experiences, specifically in Japan and China.

These books were well-received by reviewers.


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Resident in England, Harold Scarborough had his first—and only—two novels published: Stephen the Well-Beloved [10] and The Immortals.[11] Stephen the Well-Beloved involves an American journalist journeying to England who falls on hard times. A chance meeting with a princess from the fictitious Balkan kingdom of Versailia leads to the journalist travelling to that kingdom, becoming betrothed to the princess, and taking the throne. As one reviewer commented: “[H]is satirical treatment of the new republics of Europe is worthy of attention because, as a newspaper correspondent, he surely had opportunity to judge concerning conditions in these new states.” [12]

Scarborough’s second novel, The Immortals, involves a Russian scientist who devises a serum that provides immortality to people thus inoculated.

Scarborough’s only two published novels were well-received by reviewers.


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From 1930 onwards a series of crime thrillers by Gilbert Collins are published: Horror Comes to Thripplands, [13] Post-Mortem, [14] The Phantom Tourer, [15] Chinese Red, [16] The Channel Million, [17] The Dead Walk, [18] Death Meets the King’s Messenger, [19] Poison Pool, [20] and The Haven of Unrest.[21] These novels were generally well-received by reviewers. Chinese Red, as with Collins’ three novels of the 1920s, involves an Asian locale, in this case China.



Front of original dustjacket of Death Meets the King’s Messenger

(Geoffrey Bles, London, 1934)


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In 1930, Harold Scarborough registered his three-act play, ‘Lady in Waiting,’ with the U.S. Library of Congress Office. This play was possibly never performed.

The same year an article by him appeared in the New York Herald-Tribune [22] in which he provides his perspective on British-American relations:


. . .  For the superficial course of the American tourist is perhaps easier in Great Britain than in any other European country. There is the great comfort of similarity, if not identity, of language, of being able to read the newspaper, the signs, the price-tags; to understand the plays, to converse freely with all and sundry. There is the more or less fundamentally identical work of the Englishman and the American upon such matters as politics, ethics, and general conduct. It is only when these things have been discounted that the differences between our two races begin to make themselves apparent.

. . . 

There are people in Great Britain who think that America is the New Jerusalem, the object lesson of the world. There are others who think that Columbus should have been forcibly restrained from starting his voyage. But between them there is a great middle class, the opinions of which do, on the whole, run along certain fairly well defined lines.

. . . 

Nevertheless, the American here is never regarded as merely a necessary evil, or as some one whom it is quite legitimate to attempt to fleece. He is accepted as something just a little different from the ordinary tourist; and by that same token he does not find it at all necessary to follow a beaten track of amusements or sight seeing.


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Gilbert Collins was an expert swimmer and an honorary swimming coach at Bournemouth Club.[23] Collins wrote two books on swimming: The New Magic of Swimming [24] and The Newest Swimming.[25]

In 1930 Collins was a resident of Bournemouth.[26]


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On February 12, 1931, the dredge Nereus floundered near the mouth of the Tamar River in Tasmania, Australia. Two crew-members were drowned: the captain, K. McKenzie, and the first mate, Harold Scarborough (no relation to Harold Ellicott Scarborough).[27]

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Harold Ellicott Scarborough’s third book, England Muddles Through, was published in 1932.[28] This book was a contemporary survey of Britain’s post-war development.  


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Around 1933 Gilbert Collins wrote a letter to the Morning Post (London): [29]


Your accounts of a “mystery” salvage operation on H.M.S. Hampshire—if this has indeed taken place—tempt me to speculate whether there can be some strange telepathic connection between actual events and the devising of plots for novels. Repeatedly during recent years I have noticed, very shortly after devising a queer incident and writing it as fiction, that something on extraordinarily similar lines is reported as fact.

This time the fictional episode is the “hush hush” treasure hunt in my story “The Channel Million,” which I must have been committing to paper in Bournemouth while the “Hampshire” Salvors were, quite “unknown” to me, actually at work on the sunken cruiser. To take an earlier instance. I had scarcely recounted the mysterious abduction of an Englishman from Shanghai, which formed the theme of my “Chinese Red,” when the Thorburn affair blazed into notoriety. The uncanny incidents of “The Phantom Tourer,” were, I found, to be echoed within a few days by circumstantial accounts in the London Press of a “ghost coach” haunting the reads of the same West County region of England.

And to go back farther still, my villains in “Horror Comes to Thripplands” had hardly murdered their Asiatic victim and sunk his body in a Hampshire river, when the case was reported of a Japanese drowned under suspicious circumstances in the [River] Test.

Is this mere coincidence again and again? It is at all events uncommonly odd that it should happen, novel after novel, with unfailing regularity.


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On November 7, 1935, Harold Ellicott Scarborough was apparently lost overboard from the S.S. Berengaria, off Ryde, the Isle of Wight. He was presumed drowned. His passport and wallet were discovered on the deck of the ship.[30]

Scarborough had been returning to London from a trip to New York. Passengers had observed that Scarborough had appeared “depressed.” [31] Scarborough’s employment as correspondent for the New York Herald-Tribune had ended, and he appeared to be working as a freelance journalist in England.

Harold Scarborough is buried at Darlington Community Cemetery, Darlington, Maryland, USA. He was survived by his widow and daughter, his parents, and his sister.[32]


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Front of original dustjacket of Mystery in St. James’s Square

(Ward, Lock & Co., London, 1937)


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On November 10, 1937—almost two years to the day since Harold Scarborough disappeared from the S.S. Berengaria—a case was heard before Justice Branson of the King’s Bench Division, London, involving the author’s widow, Gladys Mary Scarborough, the author Gilbert Collins, and Collins’ publisher Ward, Lock & Co. Scarborough’s widow sought an injunction to have Mystery in St. James’s Square withdrawn from sale, as a result of a breach of copyright of her husband’s unpublished novel Mayfair Mystery.

Gladys Mary Scarborough, then of Ralph Court, Bayswater, claimed that Gilbert Collins’ novel, Mystery in St. James’s Square, published in early 1937 by Ward, Lock & Co., was a rewrite of her husband’s novel. Scarborough’s widow had only become aware of the matter when Ward, Lock & Co. had paid her a royalty from sales of Collins’ novel. She understood that Collins and his publisher had acted in good faith—both parties believing they had the rights to rewrite and publish the novel—and she was satisfied in having the copyright to her late husband’s novel returned to her.[33]

The publisher removed the remaining copies of Mystery of St. James’s Square from sale, and these were presumably destroyed. However, copies of the book had been sold, and review copies sent out; subsequent reviews were favourable, and a sampling of these is included as an Appendix to this edition (see page 265).[34]

Despite any amount of speculation, we can assume the following facts: Gilbert Collins, with or without the initial knowledge of Ward, Lock & Co., wrote his ‘version’ of Harold Scarborough’s novel Mayfair Mystery, and submitted Mystery in St. James’s Square to Ward, Lock & Co. We know that the publisher was aware of the connection between the two novels, since they had duly paid a royalty to Scarborough’s widow. This had in turn apprised Mrs. Scarborough of the publication, hence her court proceedings.

The facts established, we can speculate on how the two novels did actually differ. There was no secret to the fact that Mayfair Mystery had been the source for Mystery in St. James’s Square, but it would be a fascinating exercise to compare the two novels in order to discern the elements that Collins took from Scarborough’s novel.

What does become evident from reading Mystery in St. James’s Square novel is that there is very little regarding what might have been the major plot device of the stolen secret aeroplane blueprints. In another novel with a similar aeronautical theme, James Corbett’s The Ghost Plane,[35] the secret experimental aircraft becomes a virtual protagonist in the plot, causing fear and killing people. In Mystery in St. James’s Square, the putative ‘secret’ aircraft plans ultimately amount to being a McGuffin. As the story unfolds, it is what various characters in the novel do, or try to do, in order to secure these papers that drives the action.

The central English character in the novel is Derek Lavering, but he is by no means the sole central character is this story. Lavering has just returned from a diplomatic posting in China (definite autobiographical shades of Gilbert Collins’ own life, here) and he is accompanied by his Chinese “companion”, Chang. Lavering repeatedly resists the suggestion that Chang is his servant, and the best interpretation of Chang’s relationship to Lavering is as valet.

Chinese sleuths in crime fiction were not new in 1937, but they were relatively uncommon. One of the most famous Chinese sleuths in fiction was Judge Dee, a character based a real historical figure. The original 18th century Chinese stories were translated into English by Robert van Gulik in the 1940s, and van Gulik went on to make Dee the central character in his own later mysteries.

The other famous Chinese sleuth was created by Earl Derr Biggers. Charlie Chan first appeared in Biggers’ 1925 book The House Without a Key, and the character went on to become a very popular solver of crime mysteries. This was no doubt due to both his investigative abilities and his amiable nature, which features would have been endearing to a readership accustomed to stereotypical villains such as Fu Manchu in crime fiction.

It may be a coincidence that an effective and likeable Chinese sleuth plays the central role in another book published by Ward, Lock & Co., just a year after Mystery in St. James’s Square. Ward, Lock & Co. were the English publisher of the novels of American author Harry Stephen Keeler, and Keeler’s 1938 novel Cheung, Detective [36] includes a Chinese sleuth. Admittedly, Keeler, like Gilbert Collins, had a fascination for the Chinese culture, so the coincidence of two mystery novels featuring Chinese investigators being published a year apart is more likely due to shared influences rather than publishing schemes.

In Mystery in St. James’s Square Chinese terms are occasionally used in dialogue between Lavering and Chang; each term is footnoted by the author to provide pronunciation and meaning. This detail indicates a knowledge that Gilbert Collins would have gained during his years in China.

In the novel, Chang addresses Derek Lavering as “Lao-yeh”, a term explained by the author in a footnote:


Pronounced “low-yay” meaning “aged father”, a title of higher respect than hsien-shêng.


In Extreme Oriental Mixture,[37] Collins’ second book of autobiographical reminiscences of his time in China, he recounts that “Lao-yeh” was a term used by a Chinese house-boy to address his master. (In the latter book, and in the earlier Far Eastern Jaunts,[38] Gilbert Collins gives vivid—and, at times, amusing—accounts of Chinese sites, customs, and politics.)

Another detail which suggests Gilbert Collins’ personal experience appears in Chapter 24 of the book.


“One minute, Chang. I’ve never seen you swim. Can you?”

“For kind of swimming necessary here, better than Lao-yeh himself, I think.”

“What do you mean—the kind of swimming necessary here?”

“Swimming of the crab, Lao-yeh. One day in bath at University of Peking someone says, who can walk on bottom to deep end and back wearing ten ropes of copper cash in manner of necklace? Many students fail at difficult feat. I succeed—walk to deep end, sit on bottom till all think I have perished, rise once more, walk back in safety. Very loud applause—ropes of cash awarded to me as prize for achievement, also honourable title of kingcrab. I go!”


Gilbert Collins was knowledgeable in swimming; he wrote two books on the subject, and was a coach at a Bournemouth swimming club.

Without access to the text of Harold Scarborough’s Mayfair Mystery we are unable to draw any firm conclusions about the level of plagiarism, or originality, in Gilbert Collins’ Mystery in St. James’s Square. We can only accept what all parties in the affair agreed on: that Collins had taken Scarborough’s manuscript and adapted it to create a novel that was published as Mystery in St. James’s Square.


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After the court proceedings involving Mystery of St. James’s Square we do not know what became of Harold Scarborough’s widow and their daughter.


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What became of Gilbert Collins after the court case and the suppression of Mystery in St. James’s Square? In his list of works by Collins, Hubin includes The Mongolian Mystery, dated 1937 and supposedly published by Ward, Lock & Co. There is no record of this book in the British Library. This suggests that Ward, Lock & Co. had planned to release The Mongolian Mystery hot on the heels of Mystery in St. James’s Square, but that the legal action involving Mystery in St. James’s Square led to the cancellation of The Mongolian Mystery.

The whole incident of the writing and publication of Mystery in St. James’s Square raises numerous questions, and at this point the answers may remain forever elusive.

How did Collins gain access to another author’s unpublished novel, and why was he motivated to write his own version of that novel?

Why was the book published by Ward, Lock & Co., a publisher neither Collins nor Scarborough had previously had professional dealings with?

What became of the writing career of Gilbert Collins?

Two of Collins’ novels were republished in the American magazine Famous Fantastic Mysteries: The Starkenden Quest in the October 1949 issue and The Valley of Eyes Unseen in the February 1952 issue. This magazine regularly reprinted works of fantasy that had previously been released as novels; these reissues are probably abridged versions.



Covers of the October 1949 and February 1952

issues of Famous Fantastic Mysteries

The August 1952 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries featured T. S. Stribling’s novella ‘The Green Splotches.’ The response to this story from readers was enthusiastic, and in the December 1952 issue of the magazine Jim Fleming of Kansas wrote:


. . .  I once mentioned “Splotches” to you, so perhaps I am responsible for your publishing it. But however it was suggested, it was a wonderful choice. I am sending you a letter which Gilbert Collins, author of “The Valley of Eyes Unseen,” of F.F.M. fame, sent to me, which I hope will get into the December issue of F.F.M. I believe it will interest a lot of readers.


The letter from Collins to Fleming, written in June 1952, is quoted in full, and is notable for its various remarks. Mainly it shows that Gilbert Collins was alive and well in 1952, and interested in contemporary fantasy literature. The letter is reprinted here verbatim:


Letter from Collins to Fleming


Dear Jim Fleming;

This will have to be a short screed, but if you want my views on the fts “Green Splotches,” “White Wolf,” by the second week in July, obviously you cannot be kept till the next public holiday, which on this side is the first Monday in August.

I have read “The Green Splotches” and about forty pages of Gregory’s story. I think you are unduly severe on the latter, which has a background that I like. But to my way of feeling, too much of the background, touched in though it is with admirable firmness, has no really essential bearing on the action. This is another way of saying that I think the story too long for the theme. The werewolf belief has a perennial fascination, though I should doubt whether it was ever capable of sustaining a full-length novel. Kipling made a long-short-story out of “In The Rukh,” which was the germ of the Mowgli saga, but whereas Mowgli was at the Rukh period a suspect werewolf, by the time of the two full-length Jungle Books he had been revealed frankly in his true character, a human foundling suckled by a she-wolf of the Seeonee Pack.

(Tell it not in Fath, that is where Tarzan came from).

On the other hand, the best werewolf story I ever read was a mere short-short, published by the Pearson firm on this side as a reprint of one of the Uncanny Stories that used to be a feature of their monthly Novel Magazine. The narrative I have in mind was a bare 6000 words long.

But I also think that Stribling erred as much in brevity as Gregory did in length. It is tantalizing indeed to have that spaceship whisked out of the reader’s view almost as soon as glimpsed. That, I feel, is where the middle-distance of the story ought to have started. Then, I am certain, Stribling, with his mastery in depicting interplay of human character and motive, could have introduced plot and counterplot—a traitor in the explorers’ midst, perhaps; possibly a character who, without being the overworked “mad scientist,” might have been willing out of sheer scientific curiosity to betray the whole company to their would-be kidnappers so as to ensure his personal inclusion the trip; relying, it may be, on his self-believed powers of thought-transference to get his report of the Jupiter way of life back to earth.

I am uneasy about Jupiter, too. No doubt Stribling used the giant planet with his eyes open, but the fact remains that to all with a layman’s knowledge of astronomy, Jupiter will not do as a home of life. His most characteristic feature through our telescopes is a vast whiteness. Most astronomers have taken that to be the stupendous clouds of steam inevitable during his cooling period.

Later, some have hypothesized vast fields of snow covering a dead world—but to my mind that view has little plausibility. If, as I prefer to think, the planets of our system were thrown off our Sun within a few million years of one another, obviously giant Jupiter must take immeasurably longer than pigmy Earth to cool sufficiently to permit of life even beginning. In other words, it is not a question of 14½ quadrillions of highly evolved beings on Jupiter now, but of the 14½ quadrillions of years that must elapse before the first protozoa appear there, and quite as long after that for the life to have evolved highly enough to conceive and execute a space-ship.

Where I must take off my hat to Stribling is at the passage where his amazingly accurate prophecies are made. These almost put him on the same plane with Wells, whom I take to be the supreme master of science fiction. A generation ago it used to be a commonplace to remark how Wells had predicted the marvels of our 20th Century science. His airships fought the “War In The Air” somewhere before 1908, whereas the first Zeppelin flight over England took place not till 1912—heard on a dark night though not seen. Wells predicted tanks years before they appeared on the battlefield in 1916. (Personal note interpolated here: I volunteered for the first, not even knowing what they were. I was serving as a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery. Final experiments with the first tanks were being conducted in a security area of East Anglia under such hush-hush conditions that even in the circular to all units of the Forces calling for volunteers they were spoken of cryptically as “Machine Gun Corps, Heavy Section”).

But for long-shot accuracy of prediction, Stribling beats even Wells. “Green Splotches,” I gather, was written in 1919. Compare his description of the appearance of his space-ship as it sped homeward for Jupiter, with a hundred and one reports of the recent Flying Saucers: a weird luminosity outside the skin of the ship—but no external mechanism visible. His space-ship sitting on its tail is a masterstroke, too. The admirable illustration of this might be a picture of one of the V2 projectiles that, fired from Holland, hit London with such frightful accuracy and devastation only a few years ago. It surprised most of us, I think, to learn long afterwards that those Vergeltung Zwei messengers of death were launched straight into the air and ascended to a vast height before the direction-control came into play. Hats off to Stribling indeed!

Forgive the scrappiness of this letter—written in haste—and likewise the fact that you cannot have any more for the present from

Your friend,

            Gilbert Henry Collins.

London, England,

June 28, 1952.[39]


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The letter reprinted above is perhaps the last we hear of Collins. The register of deaths in Britain for April, May and June, 1960 lists a “Gilbert H. Collins” as having died in Paddington, England, aged 69. If we presume that this is the same man, there is a one year discrepancy with the official birth year of the author of Mystery of St. James’s Square. But, allowing for an error in the entry, this may suggest that Gilbert Collins lived for another 23 years, albeit in relative obscurity, after the court case of 1937.


Gavin L. O’Keefe

South Berwick, ME

May 2015



[1] Marquis Who’s Who biography.

[2] ‘A Brief History of West Towson’ by David A. Loizeaux, Baltimore County Public Library.

[3] Medal index card for Gilbert Henry Collins, National Archives, Kew, England. Collins refers to his WWI military service in his letter to Famous Fantastic Mysteries, December 1952.

[4] Report of Scarborough’s death in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, NY, Thursday, November 7, 1935, p.3.

[5] Duckworth, London, 1922.

[6] Duckworth, London, 1923. Reprinted in Fantastic Future Mysteries (USA) in 1952 (possibly abridged).

[7] Duckworth, London, 1925 / McBride, New York, 1925. Later reprinted in the USA in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, 1949 (possibly an abridged version). In 2013 Raven’s Head Press reprinted the book, with a new introduction by John Norris.

[8] Methuen, London, 1924.

[9] Methuen, London, 1925.

[10] T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1923 / D. Appleton, New York, 1924.

[11] T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1924 / D. Appleton, New York, 1924.

[12] Review of Stephen the Well-Beloved in California Southland, No. 61, January, 1925, p.13.

[13] Geoffrey Bles, London, 1930. Abridged edition, Withy Grove Press, London & Manchester [1945].

[14] Geoffrey Bles, London, 1930.

[15] Geoffrey Bles, London, 1931. Published in America as Murder at Brambles (Henry Holt, New York [1932]).

[16] Geoffrey Bles, London, 1932. Published in America as Red Death (Henry Holt, New York, 1932).

[17] Geoffrey Bles, London, 1932.

[18] Geoffrey Bles, London, 1933.

[19] Geoffrey Bles, London, 1934.

[20] Geoffrey Bles, London, 1935.

[21] Geoffrey Bles, London, 1936. Abridged edition, Withy Grove Press, London & Manchester [1946].

[22] Reprinted in the Northern Star (Lismore, NSW), Saturday, 18 October, 1930, p.15.

[23] Review of the author’s The New Magic of Swimming, in The Sydney Morning Herald Women's Supplement, Thursday, 16 August, 1934, p.16.

[24] William Heinemann, London, 1934.

[25] William Heinemann, London & Toronto, 1937.

[26] “A Brief List of Local Authors” in the 1930 NUT Diamond Jubilee Conference Bournemouth Souvenir Guide.

[27] The Newcastle Sun (NSW), Tuesday, 3 March, 1931, p.6., and The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday, 14 February, 1931, pg.16.

[28] Macmillan, London, 1932 / Bernhard Tauchnitz, Leipzig, 1933.

[29] Reprinted in the Camperdown Chronicle (Victoria), Saturday, 8 July, 1933, p.4.

[30] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, NY, Thursday, 7 November, 1935, p.3.

[31] The Poughkeepsie Eagle News, Friday, 8 November, 1935, p.5.

[32] Details from

[33] ‘King’s Bench Division, Claim for Infringement of Novel Settlement, Scarborough v. Ward Lock and Co., Limited, and another, before Mr. Justice Branson,’ in The Times (London), Thursday, 11 November, 1937, pg. 4.

[34] The copy of Mystery in St. James’s Square held by the British Library remains, to this day, in the General Reference Collection.

[35] Originally published in 1939, and reprinted by Ramble House in 2014.

[36] Reprinted by Ramble House.

[37] Methuen, London, 1925.

[38] Methuen, London, 1924.

[39] Letters quoted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, December 1952 (Vol.14, No.1), p.10.