Philip Macdonald, who also wrote as Oliver Fleming, Anthony Lawless and Martin Porlock, was born in 1899
in England. Macdonald served with the cavalry regiment in Mesopotamia during World War 1 and later trained
horses for the army. Writing was in the blood. His gandfather was George Macdonald, and his first two books
(written as Oliver Fleming) were co-written with his father, Ronald Macdonald.
Ambrotox and Limping Dick (1920) and The Spandau Quid were more thriller than detective fiction.
Macdonald's first solo outing was The Rasp, published by Collins in 1924. It also saw the debut of his series character Colonel Anthony Ruthven Gethryn. The book works well, despite the somewhat well-worn scenario of the 'body in the study of a country house', due mainly to good plotting and well crafted characters. This attention to character depth has helped Philip Macdonald maintain his standing with both readers and colectors. His ability to put some flesh on the bones of his characters was something most of his contempories either did not or could not do. Many authors concentrated their efforts on 'the puzzle', usually to the detriment of character building. This was short-sighted as given the limited number of basic scenarios available, the reader's involvement and association with the characters was ever more important. It is no coincidence that most of the Golden Age authors who are still highly regarded today did not give the reader flat characters and a conundrum, but a more encompassing novel with broader characters.
Philip Macdonald continued in much the same vein but moved to Hollywood in 1931 to become a screen writer. Between 1930 and 1933, his output rose to five novels a year with the inevitable result of varying quality. He wrote some very important and influential books, though, and his third book The Link was ingeniously plotted and remains even today a key book, not least for being one of the first books published in the Collins Crime Club. Murder Gone Mad also merits particular attention, if not only for the stunning dust jacket by Bip Pares. It is again a Golden Age classic and was selected by John Dickson Carr as one of the 'Ten Greatest Detective Novels'. In 1953 and 1956, Macdonald was recognised by the Mystery Writers of America, who awarded him the Edgar Allan Poe award for his short stories.
Philip Macdonald passed away in 1981, but remains very much appreciated today and is one of detective fiction's more important authors.
Text © 2004 R.D. Collins
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