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Douglas Rutherford (1914-1988) - Pseudonym for James Douglas Rutherford McConnell

 

British mystery writer, language teacher and housemaster at Eton College. Rutherford started to write as a relaxation and change from the academic life. Several of his novels depicted motorcycle or auto racing, a relatively little explored area in the modern crime novel. Rutherford also published non-fiction and wrote with Francis Durbridge (1912-1998) two Paul Temple adventures. Temple, a novelist-detective, was created for broadcasting in 1938, and gained a huge success in Britain and other countries, among others in Finland.

"Manson laughed. 'You speak as if this motor racing was a sport. Mr Contango. It is not a sport. It is a very big business, especially here at Monaco. Too much money is involved for the threats of a madman to be allowed to stop it.'" (from Collision Course, 1978)

James Douglas Rutherford McConnell was born in Kilkenny, Ireland. He went to high school in Yorkshire and studied at Clare College, Cambridge from 1934 to 1937, receiving his M.A. from University of Reading. During WW II he served in the British Army Intelligence Corps in North Africa and Italy, where he experienced the battle of Monte Cassino in 1944. These years provided background material for his war novels The Benedictine Commando (1980),  describing the destruction of Monte Cassino, Europe's oldest monastery, and Battlefield Madonna (1985), about Florence in the summer of '44. 

From 1946 to 1973 Rutherford worked as a modern language teacher at Eton College, until retirement in 1973. In 1970 he became a member of The Detection Club, founded in 1929. From 1953, Rutherford was married Margaret Laura Goodwin; they had one son. Under his own name, James McConnell, he published popular books of language instruction and some volumes about Eton. For the students he wrote three textbooks, Learn Italian Quickly (1960), Learn Spanish Quickly (1961), and Learn French Quickly (1966). Treasures of Eton (1976), edited by McConnell, took a look at Eton's remarkable heritage of pictures, books, skulputure and other precious objects. In 1981, Rutherford participated in Mystery Writers' Congress, which was held in Stockholm. His final novel, A Game of Sudden Death (1987), touched upon the subject of Islamic terrorism. 

Rutherford's first crime novel, Comes the Blind Fury (1950), introduced the series character Paddy Regan, a special agent, whose was also the protagonist in Meet a Body (1951) and Telling of Murder (1952). The opening is classic, familiar from Hammett's The Maltese Falcon: Regan gets a call from his partner, but the voise dies out. Rutherford continued to publish crime novels regularly from the 1950s to 1980s. He also collabotated with Francis Durbridge on two novels about Paul Temple, The Tyler Mystery (1957) and  East of Algiers (1959). Durbridge was born in Yorkshire, where Rutherford, some years older, studied at a high school. Rutherford is considered the best of the Durbridge collaborators. 

Among Rutherford's best motor racing books are The Chequered Flag (1956), an account of the great races and great drivers of his time, and A Shriek of Tyres (1957). Rutherford knew well what he wrote: in the mid-1950s he attended a number of the major races. "As this is a personal account of a holiday following the Continental "circus," the graphic account of the Le Mans disaster could not very well have been omitted, but the photographs of the accident are in poor taste. Otherwise, good photographs, and diagrams augment the text of a book which captures the true spirit of present-day motor racing . . ." (W.B. in his review of The Chequered Flag in Motor Sport, July, 1956)

Commercial aviation formed the background for The Perilous Sky (1955), but planes never captured Rutherford's imagination as much as sports cars, fast motorbikes, long-distance lorries, etc.  Skin for Skin (1968) told of a perfect robbery, planned by a bitter war veteran Crispin. The plan fails. With Jerry, his young helpmate, Crispin kidnaps a girl, Linda Campbell, because she has seen too much. Jerry falls in love with Linda. An unexpected turn in the story is that Crispin loves also Jerry. The Gilt-Edged Cockpit (1969) focuses on rivaling stables of racing cars, the battle on the courses and behind the scenes. The technical depiction of Formula 1 car, Lotus, Ferrari, and others, shows Rutherford's familiarity with the subject. The story ends in Germany, Nürburgring, where the small English Mascot Motors company wins all Alfa Romeos, Porsches and Ferraris. Clear the Fast Line (1971) mixed terrorism, Middle East politics and a race against time from London to Saloniki with a super car AC 428.

Rutherford wrote his thrillers during weekends and school holidays. His studies of the real life international crime and all kinds of fast vehicles, sports cars, motorbikes, long-distance lorries, and planes, gave reliability and authenticity to his narrative. The technology of race cars and the whole motor world have been under constant and profound changes since Rutherford started to publish his works, but although the details in the novels might be old-fashioned, his fast-moving stories still offer an example of suspense and skillful writing.

Rutherford's characters appear more human, vulnerable, and complex than the real-life Formula 1 drivers, Mika Häkkinen, Michael Schumacher, Kimi Räikkönen, Lewis Hamilton, and others, whose image is more or less polished by the media. But one basic thing his heroes and the great drivers have in common: "Over and above all this he must have courage, for without courage who can face the unremitting danger, the frights, the disappointments and even the tragedies that racing inevitably brings? That is why the great drivers in any decade can be numbered on your fingers..." (from The Chequered Flag, 1956)

For further reading: A Catalogue of Crime by Jacques Barzun & Wendell Hertig Taylor (1971; 1989); Twentieth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers, ed. by John M. Reilly (1985)

Selected bibliography:

  • Comes the Blind Fury, 1950
  • Meet a Body, 1951
  • Telling of Murder, 1952 (US title: Flight into Peril, 1952)
  • Grand Prix Murder, 1955
  • The Perilous Sky, 1955
  • The Chequered Flag, 1956
  • The Long Echo, 1957
  • The Tyler Mystery, 1957 (with Francis Durbridge)
    - Fallet Tyler (övers. av Mons Mossner, 1958)
  • A Shriek of Tyres, 1957 (US title: On the Track of Death, 1959)
  • East of Algiers, 1959 (with Francis Durbridge
  • Learn Italian Quickly, 1960
  • Murder is Incidental, 1961
  • Learn Spanish Quickly, 1961
  • The Creeping Flesh, 1963
  • Best Motor Racing Stories, 1965 (ed., as Douglas Rutherford)
  • Learn French Quickly, 1966
  • The Black Leather Murders, 1966
  • Eton: How It Works, 1967 (as J. D. R. McConnell)
  • Skin for Skin, 1968
    - Nahka nahasta (suom. Risto Lehmusoksa, 1970)
  • Best Underworld Stories, 1969 (ed., as Douglas Rutherford)
  • The Gilt-Edged Cockpit, 1969
    - Viisitoista minuuttia lähtöön (suom. Risto Lehmusoksa, 1972)
  • Eton Repointed: The New Structures of an Ancient Foundation, 1970 (as J. D. R. McConnell, with photographs by Ray Williams
  • Clear the Fast Lane, 1971
    - Ohituskaista vapaaksi! (suom. Risto Lehmusoksa, 1973)
    - Mot alla odds (övers.: Ann Björkhem, 1980)
  • The Gunshot Grand Prix, 1972
  • Killer on the Track, 1973
  • Kick Start, 1973
  • Rally to the Death, 1974
  • Race against the Sun, 1975
  • Mystery Tour, 1975
  • Treasures of Eton, 1976 (ed.)
  • Return Load, 1977
  • Collision Course, 1978
  • Early Learning Foundation, 1979 (as J. D. R. McConnell)
  • The Benedictine Commando, 1980
    - Slaget om Monte Cassino (övers.: Tommy Schinkler, 1982)
  • Turbo, 1980
    - Operation Turbo (övers.: Lennart Olofsson, 1981)
  • The Porcupine Basin, 1981
    - Betala för död (övers.: Thor-Leif Strindberg, 1983)
  • Stop at Nothing, 1983
    - Gisslan under hot (övers.: Tommy Schinkler, 1984)
  • Battlefield Madonna, 1985
  • English Public Schools, 1985
  • A Game of Sudden Death, 1987

Auto racing films:

  • Red Line 7000 (1965), dir. Howard Hawks, starring James Caan, Laura Devon, Gaul Hire, Charlene Holt, John Robert Crawford. "... the most underestimated film of the sixties." (Robin Wood in Howard Hawks, 1968).
  • The Great Race (1965), dir. Arthur Ross, starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Peter Falk, Natalie Wood. Comedy on the first New York to Paris car race, set in 1908.
  • Grand Prix (1966), dir. John Frankenheimer, starring James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Brian Bedford, Yves Montand, Toshiro Mifune. Motor racing in Monte Carlo and other European countries. Several of the characters were based on real-life persons: Eva Marie Saint character, Louise King, was married to Peter Collins, a Ferrari driver who was killed. "Having driven a race car and driven one fairly well, I can only tell you that when you are driving you have not very much sensation of speed, and I triwed to create that in the French Grand Prix which we shot all on long lenses, on 1000 mm lenses and things like that, where you got almost slow motion effect." (John Frankenheimer in The Cinema of John Frankenheimer by Gerald Pratley 1969).
  • Un homme et une femme (1966; A Man and a Woman), dir. Claude Lelouch and starring Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant. In this romantic film, famous for its theme music, Jean-Louis Trintignant plays a race car driver; he drives a 1966 Mustang in the Monte Carlo rally.
  • Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969), dir. Ken Annakin, starring Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Tony Curtis, Terry-Thomas, Susan Hampshire, Bourvil, Jack Hawkins. Adventures and accidents in a 1,500-mile car race to Monte Carlo during the 1920s.
  • Bensaa suonissa (1970; Gas in the Veins), dir. Risto Jarva, starring Pertti Melasniemi, Lilga Kovanko, Ulf Törnroth. Satirical look at car culture. Contains documentary material on the Jyväskylä Grand Prix. The director himself died in a car crash.
  • Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), dir. Monte Hellman, starring James Taylor, Warren Oates and Laurie Bird.
  • Cannonball (1976), dir. Paul Bartel, starring David Carradine, Bill McKinley, Veronica Hamel. Violence, disasters, and Trans-American Grand Prix. Sylvester Stallone, Roger Corman, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Kaplan, and Joe Dante also appear. 
  • The Cannonball Run (1980), dir. Hal Needham, starring Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Dom DeLuise. The illegal Cannonball coast-to-coast race. 
  • The Cannonball Run II (1984), dir. Hal Needham, starring Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin, Shirley McLaine, Frank Sinatra, Jamie Farr. A million-dollar prize inspires stars in the sequel to drive. 
  • Days of Thunder (1990), dir. Tony Scott, starring Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Nicole Kidman, Randy Quaid.
  • The Fast and the Furious (2001), dir. Rob Cohen, starring Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez.
  • Driven (2001), dir. Renny Harlin, starring Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Kip Pardue, Til Schweiger, Stacy Edwards. A hot young driver learns to win with the help of a veteran of the racing circuit. "Though Mr. Harlin blends stunt driving and computer-generated daredevilry with film he shot at actual races, his technique is too jumpy and self-conscious to convey either the meticulous skill the sport demands or the visceral thrill it can produce." (A.O.Scott in the New York Times, April 27, 2001)
  • The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), dir. Justin Lin, starring Lucas Black, Zachery Ty Bryan and Bow Wow. 
  • Cars (2006), dir. John Lasseter. Animation film, prod. Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios.
  • Senna (2010), dir. Asif Kapadia. Documentary, with Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Frank Williams, Ron Dennis, Viviane Senna, Milton da Silva, Neide Senna.
  • Rush (2013), dir. Ron Howard, starring Daniel Brühl (as Jame Hunt), Chris Hemsworth (as Niki Lauda), Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara.


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