Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Hext Files

Most Golden Age aficionados have heard of Eden Phillpotts, but only a few might know that he wrote under another name, "Harrington Hext," something he managed to keep hidden from his contemporaries for a while. Apparently, when Phillpotts wanted to escape the confines of ordinary fiction and let his imagination run wild he used the "Hext" alias.

As the following shows, for reviewers of his time Phillpotts was like the little girl with the curl: When he was good, he was very, very good, but when he was bad . . . .

By Harrington Hext [Eden Phillpotts, 1862-1960].
The Macmillan Company.
1922. 255 pages. $2.00
[Review excerpts] ON ONE occasion a certain Alexander Skeat was the guest of honor at a certain Club of Friends in London who met together for social relaxation. From time to time they entertained distinguished visitors who addrest them on some subject of interest which was afterwards discust.
The impression made by Skeat was not altogether pleasing, yet the club was horrified to read a week later in the Times, an account of his murder. A policeman in St. James Park heard a cry from one of the paths and hurrying thither found Skeat lying on his face. This policeman declared that close by he saw dimly in the fog a large animal, unlike anything he had ever seen before, with a long neck, narrow head and glowing eyes. He blew his whistle, whereupon the thing, evidently alarmed, hopped twice, spread a large pair of wings, ascended into the air and disappeared.
An examination of Skeat's body revealed only a small red speck under one shoulder-blade, from which proceeded an incision, no larger than a thread, which reached the heart, while a further analysis showed a sudden and unaccountable disintegration of the component parts of the body.
All London is aroused, for it appeared as if Skeat had been killed by a force unknown to science, for the story of the strange animal is hardly considered.
. . . The next startling event is the entire destruction of the Albert Memorial. An event that would doubtless be welcomed by thousands of English.  . . .
. . . Some readers can not enjoy a mystery story unless everything is clearly explained in the end. Of course the explanation is necessarily based upon a hypothesis, which, being granted, is satisfactory. The book is extremely well written and the various discussions held in the Club of Friends enlarge the interest beyond the mere solution of the mystery. — "The Mysterious and Murderous 'Bat'," THE LITERARY DIGEST (May 13, 1922)
[Full review] A pseudo-scientific mystery story that would raise gooseflesh on a billiard ball. — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (June 1922; go to page 412, top)
[Excerpt] . . . Phillpotts's first sf [science fiction] novel was a thriller, Number 87 (1922) as by Harrington Hext, which revolves around a powerful new Power Source and an [SPOILER]; other thrillers as by Harrington Hext engage occasionally in the supernatural. — SFE: THE ENCYLCOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION ("Eden Phillpotts")
By Harrington Hext [Eden Phillpotts, 1862-1960].
The Macmillan Company.
1923. 334 pages.
[Full review] A story of fanaticism, dealing with the strange nemesis that pursued an English family. — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (December 1923; go to page 454, top left)
By Harrington Hext [Eden Phillpotts, 1862-1960].
The Macmillan Company.
1924. 350 pages. $2.00
[Full review] Why "Cock Robin" for a girl? One is a trifle annoyed with Mr. Hext for having assigned to Diana this meaningless and unexplained masculine nickname, apparently for no other purpose than to provide a catching title.
The first part of the book, in presenting facts preparatory to the later mystery, keeps the reader a little too long in the company of people who are no more than disagreeable and antipathetic until they become enmeshed in actual crime. After that point is reached the remainder is satisfactorily enlivened by the doings of a super-villainess, whose little tricks with arsenic are daring and diabolical. She is interesting, if untrue. — "The New Books," THE OUTLOOK (May 21, 1924)
By Harrington Hext [Eden Phillpotts, 1862-1960].
The Macmillan Company.
1925. 328 pages. $2.00
[Full review] Thriller, by an author who does far better when he writes under his own name. — "Notes on New Books," THE OUTLOOK (June 24, 1925)
[Full review] If only the enigmatic gentleman who writes detective stories under the nom de plume of Harrington Hext—said to be the alias of an author of prominence in another field—had suppleness of manner and were able to make his people talk like everyday human beings instead of handing each other solid chunks of conversational bricks, or even of set speeches, we should have the mystery story raised to an nth degree. For he has not only rare ingenuity in the building of his plots but a constructive imagination.
The stage setting for this one of his tales is particularly good: its centrepiece is an immense, ruinous old warehouse at the edge of a small channel port, a town that has lost its maritime importance with the coming of the railroads but which was once a favorite resort of smugglers. Of course there is an underground passage from the store house to a neighboring farm, and, of course, the assortment of murders takes place in the old building. — "The New Books," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (September 12, 1925)
- The GAD Wiki page for Phillpotts is HERE. ONTOS previously featured him HERE; Curt Evans has an overview of Phillpotts's career HERE.
- The Internet Speculative Database (ISFDb) has listings of Phillpotts's non-detective fiction HERE, while SFE: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has an extensive rundown of his fantasy and science fiction HERE.

Categories: Thriller fiction mixed with Fantasy/Science fiction

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