Monday, March 16, 2009

Help from the Baron: John Creasey

Sergeant Worraby of the River Police, Westminster Division, could have ranked right up there along with some of Creasey’s and Edgar Wallace’s best characters; he kick-starts Help from the Baron in classical fashion.
Many things are said about Worraby, the most persistent being that he needs only to glance at a corpse beneath the demoralising light of the launch’s searchlight to be able to say—as he invariably does:

“Obvious case of felo de se, my lad”, or “Homicidal victim, no one ever did that to himself”, or “Lay you ten to one that wasn’t dead when he hit the water.” Like a doctor diagnosing childish complaints, one glance is all that Worraby needs. He is seldom proved wrong. At public expense, doctors who are already far too busy with the living are nevertheless employed to dissect certain parts of the anatomy of the corpse, write out extensive reports, then give evidence at long and often wearisome inquests; and the verdicts almost invariably concur with Sergeant Worraby’s original: “I can tell you what happened to him, my lad—hit over the head and thrown in. Give you ten to one they tossed him in from Gimble’s Steps.” Or Fisherman’s Bottom, Tickerton’s Wharf, Moss Lane or any of a dozen romantically-named places.
The man, who discovers the first ‘body’ in Help, is a character who could’ve carried an entire book, if not a series on his broad shoulders. Unfortunately, not for John Creasey, as the good sergeant disappears after the first 30 odd pages, making but a brief insignificant appearance towards the end.

The rest of Help is pure John ‘the Baron’ Mannering and Lorna, Superintendent Bill Bristow, diamonds, fences, murders, kidnappings and smashed skulls, naïveté and romance, and the inevitable build-up of the Baron’s image.
One man could take a car engine to pieces and put it together again, another could invent explosives, a third could amass fortunes, a fourth could grow onions; Mannering could open doors and force locks of all kinds. He had once been an expert par excellence. He had, in fact, once been a cracksman extraordinary, to coin a phrase, and in those days he had won much notoriety and not a little fame as the Baron, who always worked strictly incognito. He regarded them as the good or the bad old days, according to his mood, and always remembered them when, as now, he turned the lock with hardly a sound.
The Baron is perhaps Creasey’s best character. And Help is typical Baron fare. It takes a Creasey fan to recognise the compliment in that sentence.

But a serious character is lost in the form of Sergeant Worraby, who had only to sniff the river breeze a laden cargo-boat passed to say where she came from and what she carried, what her tonnage was, whether her crew were lascars, Chinese, Malays, white men, Dutch or Greek, French or Madagascan.

Ironically, even a Google search for ‘Sergeant Worraby’ today threw up precisely one result.

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