John Creasey as Anthony Morton
John Creasey claimed he was so fast at writing he could be shut in a glass box and have a book finished before he needed to be let out. Creasey wrote over 600 books in his lifetime. He had at least 21 pen names including Anthony Morton for this, the Baron series, of which there are 47 titles. Creasey wrote for approximately 43 years meaning he published about 14 books per year. In 1937 alone, he had 29 books published!
Many of Creasey’s works were adapted for film or television. Copies of his Edgar Award winning Gideon’s Fire (as JJ Marric) go for big money on eBay (though it’s possibly a result of script bidding errors). He could obviously write but, at the pace he was doing it there are, not surprisingly, some low points to his bibliography. This is one of them. The novel is purely by the numbers, Creasey doesn’t even take the time to develop or even explain his central character.
The titular Baron John Mannering, at least at this point in the run, is generic and boring. He is almost a guest star to the plot and little of his ex-jewel thief past, or debonair gentleman detective present serves as anything but as someone to explain the few loose ends of the plot. He occasionally dispatches of rogues and goons. He seems to be constantly admiring the steely resolve of woman or wondering if the paleness of their faces hides inner turmoil.
Black for the Baron isn’t necessarily worse than the other recent detective pulps I’ve read. What are the Bugles Blowing For? by Nicolas Freeling was badly written, much worse than Creasey, but Freeling created vivid characters and his book was interested as it touched on the late fifties confusion with both the recent horrors of the holocaust and the oncoming sexual revolutions of the sixties. The Sad Variety by C.S. Lewis (Daniel Day Lewis’ father) could have been almost as boring in its characters but it was tightly plotted and created a real sense of tension and stakes so that it seemed possible a tragedy might occur despite the hero’s best efforts.
At a slim 150 pages there are few hints Creasey is interested in what he is doing in this outing. There is no real twist, point of interest or tension in the plot. Generally, the book really does feels as if it was written by someone trapped in a glass box running out of oxygen and beginning to choke on their own farts.
Fish loves lemon and fish loves oil. Fish likes pepper too, as well as bread. As a companion tomato, fresh at least, isn’t at all out of the question. Fresh tomato has a nice acidity, a contrasting texture. In other forms tomato can work with fish in pasta or a fish stew with a tomato base, fine, sure. But tomato sauce? No! It’s too sweet, too thick, not enough fat to wither contrast or compliment. It’s as likely as anything to overpower the taste of the fish.
I have nightmares of accidently picking up tinned sardines in tomato sauce rather than oil. I’d take the awful cracked pepper or lemon flavours before the concentrated flavours of ketchup and fish trapped in tin. But as the ice-caps melt and moguls fall the world changes, quiet revolutions happen, and I wonder if I am being left behind, stuck in my ruts and old ways. Perhaps I was too quick to judge in my younger years? Maybe, who knows, things have changed. I don’t want to live life in the one lane, the wrong lane. I’m happy to re-examine my beliefs, accept that I was biased, mistaken or just plain wrong. I’m ready for a brave new world. Surely anything is possible if you question that which you take for granted. Perhaps the Red Hot Chilli Peppers won’t sound like audio vomit anymore? Perhaps taking the bus is now quick and fun? A simple perception shift might actually show me that real estate agents are good people trying their best rather than unholy ghouls in cheap suits ever eager to suck the life out of all they come across. More unlikely still, perhaps, the world of tinned sardines and tomato sauce has changed, perhaps it is the go to snack I’m about to fall in love with?
Conservas Santos’ sardines in tomato are from Portugal. The have a lovely, abstract packaging in natural colours and a recycled feeling paper. They look classy, they’re priced classy. They’re the tinned fish equivalent of a smart boutique hotel in a simple uncrowded seaside town. If anything could ever bring me around to the idea of sardines and tomato sauce I feel that these Portuguese fish artists at Conservas Santos have the best chance.
Sadly, though the fish are generally large and without minerality, the tomato while not sweet is also not particularly flavourful. The fish are of different sizes and textures. Some seem over cured, one has eggs and is perhaps responsible for the strange fishy flavour of the sauce which is unlike the actual fish which swim within it. Perhaps this is a bad can, a bad example, but the message is clear. Sometimes snap judgements are borne out of certainty and core beliefs. There can be no redemption for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers or the real estate agents which seek to ruin our lives. There can, for me, be no just marriage of tomato and tinned fish.