I remember reading Monsarrat’s classic novel of Atlantic convoys during WWII, The Cruel Sea, at school, and enjoying it very much. But it wasn’t until a couple of decades later that I came across his Master Mariner series – Running Proud and Darken Ship.
It was when I was living in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. I’d joined the Daly Community Library within a fortnight of arriving – Abu Dhabi was at that time short of good book shops. And over the next eight years, I worked my way through that library. It had a poor science fiction selection, so I ended up reading a lot of mainstream fiction by authors I’d never tried before. I suspect I picked Running Proud because I remembered The Cruel Sea as being good. Running Proud, however, wasn’t good; it was excellent. Sadly, Monsarrat died before he could finish the second book, Darken Ship, and it consists only of the opening chapters and scattered notes. Despite this, the two-book series became a favourite.
So I started buying and reading more of Monsarrat’s fiction. He’s perhaps best described as a solid writer who had moments of excellence. Many of his novels are very much of their time – workmanlike 1950s and 1960s thrillers. But several of them are interesting: such as the science-fictional The Time Before This, in which a man visiting the frozen north of Canada is told of a cave containing artefacts from a civilisation which preceded humanity. Or Smith And Jones, which initially reads as a straightforward spy thriller but becomes something entirely different on the last page.
Anyway, here are the Monsarrat books I own. My collection is not complete – there are about half a dozen titles I don’t have. Most are first editions, and one or two are even signed. My copy of The Cruel Sea is a reprint and a bit tatty – I should imagine first editions of it are really hard to find. But mine is a signed copy.
Castle Garac was, as far as I’m aware, published as a paperback original.
I don’t have this US edition, but I think I prefer the cover art to the Pan paperback. Both look a bit Mills & Boon-ish, but the novel is actually a thriller set in the south of France.
Several of Monsarrat’s books were made into films – The Cruel Sea, of course; but also The Story of Esther Costello (starring Joan Crawford), The Ship That Died of Shame (starring Richard Attenborough), and Something to Hide (starring Peter Finch).
Finally, Monsarrat’s two-volume autobiography.