Edward Candy

Edward Candy

Edward Candy was the pseudonym of Barbara Alison Boodson Neville (Dr Alison Neville) (1925-1993) about whom little is now known except that she was a British doctor who had held a number of hospital posts before going into voluntary retirement to raise a family. She had five children. She used a pseudonym because she intended to go back into medical practice after her family had grown up, but instead she returned part-time to work in electroencephalography, and so allowed brief biographical details to appear in her very last book. She died of motor neurone disease.

Her first novels were detective stories, but then she moved on into problem/ straight novels which at first shared the medical background of the earlier books but without the detection. I find these less interesting. She also reviewed books for The Times and The Sunday Times.

I know little else about her except that in 1958 she joined The (British) Detection Club (of which G K Chesterton had been the first president when it was founded in the 1930s), when, like other members she had to promise "that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them, using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo-Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence or the Act of God". And she also had to agree that no vital clue should ever be kept from the reader and that she would "honour the King's English". This gave her the chance of taking part in three convivial dinners a year, along with the rest of the fifty best British crime writers.

But see the messages about her in my guestbook from her daughter and from a friend.

Which Doctor (1954)
Which Doctor was her first book. It is all about the murderer of a doctor and kidnapper of a nine-year-old boy witness from the Bantwich-Bannister Hospital for Children. Set in an imaginary industrial Midlands town in the UK, the story follows the discoveries of visiting Professor Fabian Honeychurch, as he helps Inspector Burnivel from Scotland Yard unravel a mystery in which drugs, controlled experiments and members of the medical staff are involved - but there's not all that much exciting action.

The three characters who most come alive are Honeychurch, Burnivel and the boy Tom. It is Burnivel "full of lunch and hopeful of adultery" who welcomes a possible scandalous story about one of his suspects: "Burnivel was a joyous, a jocund, a jubilant man. Sex had at last reared its by no means ugly head; he greeted it as a friend long lost".

It's all written with a nice sense of humour: "Whatever architect had been resposible for the lesser amenities of the Children's Hospital had clearly devoted much time and labour to designing an appropriate entrance to the Medical Ward. Honeychurch turned as he left for a last glance and found the view partly blocked by another inscription, coyly ogling the sick child with WELCOME TO BANNISTER WARD, A FAIRY LAND FOR SICK CHILDREN. Around it, stone cherubs of a suspect corpulence disported themselves in a welter of cumulus clouds."

Then there's the way that Professor Pemberton 'phones to report his colleague's death to the police : "One of my staff has been found dead in the grounds. He has been struck on the back of the head. .... I'd be grateful if you'd make your arrival as inconspicuous as possible. We've an important meeting here today. I shouldn't like any fuss." When Honeychurch, who is with him, suggests they should cancel the meeting, Pemberton insists: "Good heavens, no! We're expecting at least three hundred visitors. I can't possibly disappoint them. Besides Martin wouldn't have wished it. He'd have wanted his paper to be read." As Honeychurch says on another occasion: "People are always odder than you think".

Bones of Contention (1954)
Bones of Contention sees Professor Fabian Honeychurch back at work as Professor of Child Health in the University of London and as founder/president of the Royal College of Paediatricians, where the Director of the Museum of Pathological Conditions in Childhood is surprised by the unexpected arrival of the skeleton of a woman in a cabin trunk. Then a few days later, the Director is dead. One of his colleagues is pushed down a flight of stairs and wakes up to find himself held as a virtual prisoner in the private nursing home run by his attempted murderer. But Honeychurch, together with Inspector Burnivel who is brought in right at the end of the book, is able to sort things out.The virtual imprisonment is certainly a dramatic situation, but, as Burnivel himself says, "It all sounds a lot of rubbish to me". Altogether, it's a less appealing story than the first one, but the setting is still interesting.

The Graver Tribe (1958)
The Graver Tribe need hardly be mentioned here, as it's not a detective story at all. It's a rather gossipy tale about the rivalry of surgeons trying to obtain a consultant's post. The hospital background is well drawn, but the not too subtle characterisation of the surgeons is less convincing.

Strokes of Havoc (1966)
Strokes of Havoc marks the author's deparure from both the detective story and the hospital background. It's the story of an old woman who leaves the brother she's been living with for years, and the bungalow she moves into. It isn't really very memorable.

Parents' Day (1967)
Parents' Day is all about the interaction of parents, staff and teenagers during the annual parents' day at Cilrhedddyn, a small coeducational boarding school in Pembrokeshire. The characters are well delineated, but not very much happens and no crime or detection is involved.

Dr Amadeus (1969)
Dr Amadeus isn't a detective story either, but is described in the blurb as "a tragi-comedy of good intentions". It tells the at first amusing, but not too convincing, story of 27-year-old Dr Frank Amadeus ("only several million dollars stood between him and destitition"), whose doctorate was in creative writing, and who represents an American Foundation (founded by his father) that is on the look-out for unjustly neglected authors to whom it might offer some (slight) financial help.

The three he is recommended to meet in the UK are an odd, distinctly unlikely trio, of which the most realistic seems to be Mrs Enderby, who writes short books that "leave library readers disappointed. She is perhaps an acquired taste, and so far very few people have acquired it". Her "books improve, each one shows an advance upon the last .... Their appeal was tenuous, and, judging by their sales even in the country of their origin, esoteric. .... Her income from writing was less than half what she made by teaching less than fifteen hours a week, and was not even predictable... Mrs Enderby's marriage for no good reason had come to an end. She could not combine writing with the rearing of children .... ".

Could any of this be the author referring to herself? Certainly she wrote short novels, couldn't have earned much from her writing, and spaced out her earlier books with long intervals between them. But, as another character points out. "Stories, even stories based upon things that have really happened, are not truth: all novels are lies". But, we are told, Mrs Enderby "spoke from the heart" when she admitted, "Nobody would suffer any loss if I never write another word for publication". Was this how the author too sometimes felt?

Words for Murder Perhaps (1971)
Words for Murder Perhaps is set most convincingly in the University of Bantwich's Extra-mural Department, where middle-aged English lecturer Gregory Roberts is responsible for a course on Crime Fiction, Past and Present. "There are no surprises," he is told by the deputy warden."Twenty-two of your lot are women and fifteen are over forty. One of the under-forties is a nun, so she hardly counts. Sometimes I feel sorry for you, Roberts, but perhaps you would be disconcerted if a pretty girl came and sat in the front row. Perhaps it would put you off your stroke". But this is exactly what happens, and Robert's life with his old mother seems likely to change.

Then a member of staff is poisoned, and the only clue is a line of obscure English poetry. Burnivel (now a Superintendent) arrives from Scotland Yard, and Roberts himself comes under suspicion, but then it turns out that the murderer is after him too. It's an ingenious story and well told in a quiet sort of way, but its real strength again lies in the reality of the setting, and there's an affectionate portrayal of the main character. Here he is, assessing his adult education class: "The eager beavers would be in the front rows, where they could catch his eye during those fiercely happy discussion periods that followed the coffee break; when every question he put forward, Mr Roberts well knew, no matter how lucid the wording, would produce an answer calculated to confound all rational argument, and every opinion given would would release inevitably a flood of personal doubt and disturbance, ultimately relating to the length of young people's hair, promiscuity, drugs and the rights of squatters".

The author seems to be writing from personal experience, although, as she explains at the start, Bantwich itself "is an imaginary city, and can therefore have no university and, alas, no Extra-mural department; and the staff and students of those two institutions must be imaginary, too, although I would like to think some of them are not".

IIt seems surprisingly common for characters in, or authors of, detective stories to attend or teach adult education classes, but this book gives us more information than most about the content of the lectures. In one of them, Roberts explains: "We are not usually asked, in the classic detective story, to feel with the characters, to identify, only to perform a feat of the intellect ...We don't want, we positively fear, to have our delight sullied by any appreciable concern for victim or suspect Hence the number of mysteries where the crime has already been committed before the start of the narrative, or where the victim is a wicked person for whom no real sympathy need be felt .... The essence of the detective story is that it will tease and even frighten us a little but it won't upset or anger us".

The authors he goes on to mention include Michael Innes and Michael Gilbert, then he argues that it has become more difficult to write detective stories in recent times because it is harder to think of "plausible reasons why any human being should ever commit murder". We are more tolerant of misbehaviour, so there is less scope for blackmail etc; and estate duty reduces the opportunity of murder for gain. I found all this very interesting - more interesting, in fact, than some of the intricacies of the plot. Recommended.

Scene Changing (1977)
Scene Changing, a non-detective story, also has an interesting literary background: a novelist, Jeff Renshaw, has written a rather unsensational book about an elderly man who is fascinated by a four-year-old girl. A well-known dramatist wants to adapt it for the stage, and we follow the vicissitudes of the play's progress, and how the writer ends by collaborating in changes (we are not told exactly what they are, but they seem to have compromised his initial integrity) to make it (and him) a success. The ending (complete with an arbitrary swapping of partners) is not really very convincing, but the theatrical background is well handled, and the theatrical characters are lively, interesting, and
suitably over the top.

Every now and then, one wonders if the author is writing from personal experience: "I have nothing to do, of course," Jeff's wife angrily complains. "Only a full-time job, and keeping the house clean and washing and ironing and gardening and shopping and preparing food, only the same old dreary chores. Every day the same as the one before and the one to come ... I am at the end of my tether." And, when it comes to getting a novel adapted as a play, the author also had first-hand experience to guide her (a play by Roland Millar, based on her novel Parents' Day, was performed in London in 1972. It was never published). Even the title of Jeff's novel, Voices of Children, was the title Candy herself used for her next and last novel.

Voices of Children (1980)
Voices of Children is set in a little private estate in Surrey, where an odd old man, Matthew, previously head of a progressive school in South Wales that has recently been burnt down, remembers his boyhood friend, Oliver, who had left him the money that had enabled him to start the school. But all this is told in a rather confusing way, ending with Matthew who, departing in a train, having "repossessed his dead, bears with him multitudes; as do we all". It all seems rather sad and pointless.

Edward Candy novels that I have not been able to track down are A Lady's Hand and A Season of Discord.

There is hardly anything about the author on the web.

Please sign my GUEST BOOK. All comments, contributions (or corrections) welcomed!


The face of the nun in this first American paperback is worth noticing!
Return to