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Friday, October 10, 2008

FORGOTTEN BOOKS: HAZELL AND THE THREE-CARD TRICK BY P. B. YUILL!

FORGOTTEN BOOKS: HAZELL AND THE THREE-CARD TRICK BY P. B. YUILL!

P. B. Yuill was the joint pseudonym of Terry Venables and Gordon M. Williams. Venables was a top flight professional soccer player/manager who met freelance writer Williams when they collaborated on the soccer novel, They Used Play On Grass.

To avoid the same kind of quirky publicity their unlikely pairing garnered for that first novel (who knows why) they decided to use a pseudonym when writing a series of hardboiled private eye novels. They chose the moniker P.B. Yuill because they both had an uncle by that name.

The three books in the Hazell series (Hazell Plays Solomon, Hazell and the Three Card Trick, and Hazell and the Menacing Jester) feature wise-cracking Cockney private eye James Hazell who successfully picked himself up after being kicked off the police force for turning to drink when his marriage broke up.

The novels spawned the two season (1978–1980) Thames Television series ‘Hazell,’ noted mostly for Hazell’s portrayal by British actor Nicholas Ball – who played a younger version of Hazell than the books portrayed.

In Hazell and the Three Card Trick, Hazell, who introduces himself as ‘the biggest bastard who ever pushed your bell-button,’ is engaged by a widow to prove her late husband was a murder victim and not a suicide. This old plot chestnut is enlivened by Hazell’s discovering the solution to the mystery lies with a group of small-time con men who work the three card trick on the streets of London.

All three Hazell stories are lightweight, but enjoyable – as was the television series it spawned – with the character a slightly tarnished East End version of Raymond Chandler's immortal detective Philip Marlowe.

But while Hazell also spawned British comic strips and comic annuals, the most fascinating spin off from the series was a non-fiction book by Manuel Alvarado and Edward Buscombe – Hazell: The Making of a Television Series, which took a fascinating and early look at how a series of books gets translated to the television medium.

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