A Man Called Mitchell

Most writers consider themselves blessed if they create one memorable protagonist in their careers. James Mitchell [1926-2002], novelist and television dramatist, created four.

In the early 1960s, there was the violent, tortured secret agent John Craig, who was seen as a credible successor to James Bond following the death of Ian Fleming. Then came Mitchell’s most famous creation, the enigmatic, working-class and distinctly unglamorous assassin David Callan, who featured in the iconic television series ‘Callan’ from 1967-72 as well as in novels, movies and some forty short stories.

Mitchell went back to his childhood in the North-East during the Depression for his next memorable character: the wily and ruthless (but charming) social climber Jack Ford in the hugely successful BBC series ‘When the Boat Comes In’, which ran from 1976 to 1981. And then, after twenty years as one of the mainstays of British television drama, James Mitchell returned to the novel – his first had actually appeared in 1957 – with a new hero, the Anglo-Italian private detective Tommaso Ronald Hogget, who excels at finding things and people, even when they don’t want to be found.

Ron isn’t the bravest private eye in the business, or so he often says, and whenever danger and violence loom – as they often do – he calls on the services of ex-paratrooper Dave Baxter to provide the muscle. The relationship between Hogget and Baxter is central to the stories and is reminiscent of the famous double-act that was Callan and his smelly burglar assistant Lonely, although the roles are subtly reversed.

Ron Hogget is perhaps the most overtly romantic hero Mitchell created and has more than a touch of the Jack-the-Lad (if not Jack Ford) about him. When on a case, and on expenses, he takes an almost child-like delight in travelling first class, staying at the poshest hotels and ordering the very best food and drink. His clients are invariably filthy rich and well-connected, the female ones are always stunningly beautiful and find Ron and his minder Dave irresistible.

The Hogget trilogy, first published 1985-88, was a product of its time and is no less interesting because of that. The books were among the last of ‘conspicuous consumption’ school of thriller writing, where the hero was expected to know which vintage of champagne or brand of cognac to drink, and characters thought nothing of jumping on Concorde for a quick trip to New York or flying first class to Australia to follow up a lead. They were also written before computers, mobile phones and digital photography became common place, which if nothing else makes one realise how much has changed in less than thirty years.

Although lighter in tone than his Callan stories, James Mitchell showed that he had lost none of his skill when it came to pared-down, fast-paced writing. When the Hogget books first appeared, the veteran crime critic of The Sunday Times John Coleman wrote: “Mr Mitchell knows how to sketch in hosts of characters, from off-grey to black, with caustic, bruised wit.”

Ostara Crime has reissued the trilogy – Sometimes You Could Die, Dead Ernest and Dying Day – as trade paperbacks and eBooks, bringing them back into print for the first time in twenty-five years.

To purchase copies of these new re-issues click on the below links.

Dead Ernest

Dying Day

Sometimes You Could Die


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