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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)
Auto racing films: