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.