Saturday, April 16, 2005

F. Van Wyck Mason

A while back I was talking about authors who were popular in their time but are almost forgotten now. F. Van Wyck Mason probably falls into that category. Not many people reading his books these days, I'd guess. And he was popular in two genres, not just one.

I first became aware of Mason's work in the Sixties, when I was a huge fan of spy, secret agent, and espionage fiction. I read everything I could find along those lines, so it's not surprising I came across several paperbacks about Army Intelligence officer Colonel Hugh North, written by someone with the sort of odd name Van Wyck Mason. I liked the ones I read, books with titles like TROUBLE IN BURMA, MARACAIBO MISSION, DARDANELLES DERELICT, and HIMALYAN ASSIGNMENT. As you can tell, North was something of a globetrotter. I was working in the local public library at the time, and someone donated a bunch of old mysteries. That was when I discovered that Hugh North had been around for quite a while, starting as a captain in novels written in the Thirties such as THE WASHINGTON LEGATION MURDERS and THE BUDAPEST PARADE MURDERS. I liked these even better than North's later adventures.

After a while, working in the library as I was, I became aware of a historical novelist named F. Van Wyck Mason. Had to be the same guy, surely. But I didn't read many historical novels then, so I never gave one of Mason's a try, despite my fondness for the Hugh North books.

I had read all of the Captain/Major/Colonel North novels I could find by the end of the Sixties, and after that I didn't read anything else by Mason for a good thirty years. But when I started buying old issues of the pulp magazine ARGOSY on eBay a few years ago, I noticed lots of novelettes and serials by an author by-lined on the covers as F.V.W. Mason. It took me a while, but eventually I realized this was the same guy. I read several of his historical adventure novels that were serialized in ARGOSY and liked them quite a bit. Like the Hugh North novels, they were never flashy, just good solid storytelling with a fine sense of time and place.

All this was on my mind because I'm currently reading a Civil War historical novel by Mason entitled PROUD NEW FLAGS (Lippincott, 1951) and enjoying it a lot. Yes, it's a little old-fashioned, but as you'd expect from someone who cut their writing teeth on the pulps, it has a good sense of pace and action. F. Van Wyck Mason may be forgotten, but he's still worth reading, at least to me.

17 comments:

Frank Denton said...

Next thing you'll be telling us all about Edison Marshall. I've enjoyed both Van Wyck Mason and Marshall and I have plenty of their books left. It's nice to hear someone talking about these old guys who are now largely forgotten.

James Reasoner said...

I have some Edison Marshall books, and this will probably prompt me to read one of them. I've heard good things about his work in the past. Unfortunately, the Mason book I'm reading, PROUD NEW FLAGS, has bogged down considerably. It's not one of his better novels.

Anonymous said...

I have one of the many historical novels by F.V.W. Mason called "The Young Titan". The title intrigued me and I found a novel about the young United States. It was and is a fabulous tale. One book I have never let go of.

Anonymous said...

I first read Van Wyck mason back in the fifties with Cutlass Empire. Later I read Silver Leopard, about the first crusade, then Golden Admiral, about Drake. And who can forget Edison Marshall's The Viking?

David Edwards said...

I came across a copy of The Hongkong Airbase Murders by Mason a few years ago. I was so intrigued that I wondered who the author was. I could not find anything significant about him on the internet so I just started collecting the books. Piecing together information from the dust jackets and other sources I found out much about the man. He turned out to be a fairly interesting character so I posted a bio on Wikipedia.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see Mason is not forgotten. I have a good many of his books - mostly the historical novels which started I believe in the Revolutionary War and proceeded on to the Civil War. Minor characters in an earlier novel became major characters in a later novel. I have always wondered why Hollywood didn't pick up on his novels.... they were really rip-snorters.

John on the Sunset Coast said...

I first encountered Mason's work as I was entering high school in 1954; my aunt had the complete Revolutionary War series. Being able to read them in order over a short period (summer vacation) I got the flavor and scope of the books which I think original readers could not have had waiting a couple of years between titles. These books were much more interesting and evocative of the period than the bicentennial series from John Jakes. I did not find the Civil War stories as interesting as the Revolution stories, except that characters appeared who were descendants of characters in the earlier tales.

I enjoyed, too, many of the other historical novels, but I never did
find the North series interesting.

JohnH

ElwynnMaxon said...

I started my Van Wyck Mason reading with The Young Titan and moved on to The Three Harbors in 1985. I have read several others since then. I have found his historical work to be most accurate. I've never read a Col. North story but I suppose I should.

It is a shame that his work is found only in garage sales and library cut outs. He tells a solid story and you run the risk of learning some history to boot.

Elwynn

Anonymous said...

I just bought a box of books at an auction for a $1.00 - I love books. In it was found "Eagle In The Sky" by F. van Wyck Mason. WHAT AN EXCELLENT BOOK! Mason is a master at story telling in this book! The lives of the three doctors and their patients, as well of the Revolutionary War, was wonderful. I read quite a few novels concerning medicine, I was challenged with new terms whic I did actually find in an extremely old medical dictionary I posess. I homeschool and this is definitely going to be on my daughtersreading list when she's old enough! I'm off to find more of his novels. I'm so happy :).

James Reasoner said...

I'm very gratified that this post is still drawing comments more than three years after I wrote it. Mason was a fine author and deserves to be remembered.

Anonymous said...

I have read only two of Mason's works...Cutlass Empire and Silver Leopard. They were among my fathers huge collection of books that I inherited. When I was going through the assortment one night looking for something to read, I came across Cutlass Empire and decided to give it a go. I was hooked after the first chapter. I sawed through that book and dug around to see if there was any more left.
Silver Leopard followed immediately and was just as rewarding.
Now, I regularly check for Mason in the used bookstores and if I ever see Cutlass Empire or Silver Leopard in hardcover...I'm buying it!

hjnytoni said...

I discovered him while working on a genealogy of Fishkill, New York. He is a member of the locally prominate Van Wyck family. The local library still has a number of his books. Since I'm a fan of his type of historical fiction, it was a happy find.

tasimmo said...

Anyone know how to contact the family? I have a question for them regarding screen rights....

tasimmo said...

Anyone know how to get in touch with his family? I'd like to contact them regarding screen rights....

Brian Oster said...

One of my favourite authors, along with Thomas B Costain and James A Michener (and JAMES REASONER!), reading about van Wyck Mason in the blog was a very pleasant surprise. I have read some of his historical novels, but they are very hard to find these days - I have three or four of them. I remember as a lad listening to a radio adaptation of Cutlass Empire, and Golden Admiral, both done by the CBC here in Canada, that would have been in the early to mid 1950s. Both were in serial form in the late afternoon, I think about twelve or so half- hour episodes each. I not only remember the stories, but also the musical themes.

Anonymous said...

Hello, This may seem strange.. But, My family and i have ran across some of Van Wyck Masons belongings. They have been in our possession for about 6 years- we finally decited to start reserching him and found out he was a very interesting man!
Some of the things we have are letters he wrote to his wife, Dorothy, during WWI, old photographs of his 3 boys & family, fan mail, original copies & a large amount of other interesting things!! Possibly some books that never even got published.

If anyone knows someone that i could talk to about this please get in touch with me via email: brttnylnn17@hotmail.com

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I read Van Wyck Mason's book Saigon Singer last fall. It was a book that my father had kept and my mother was cleaning some of his books out for a yard sale. I had never heard of Mason and I am not a big spy story fan but decided to read it as my father obviously liked the book as he kept it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I like the way the story is straight forward and characters are all very different and interesting. I have not read any of his other books but plan on visiting the local used book stores to see if I can find anything more he wrote.