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Sunday, January 25, 2015

REMEMBERING AUTHOR GERALD HAMMOND

REMEMBERING AUTHOR GERALD HAMMOND

I have just received the sad news of the passing of prolific Scottish mystery writer Gerald Hammond. I’ve been friends with Gerald for many years. So many years, in fact, that when we first started corresponding it was via those old fashioned things called letters, switching to email only after technology caught up with both of us. We shared writing problems, created plots together, and generally enjoyed each other’s company. I even had the opportunity to meet Gerald and his wife Gilda for dinner one evening as they passed through Los Angeles on their way to a cruise ship.

Born in 1926, Gerald lived in Scotland, where he retired from his profession as an architect in 1982 to pursue his love of shooting and fishing and to write full time. After his first novel, Fred in Situ, was published in 1965, Gerald became a prolific author with over 70 published novels. His last title, The Unkindest Cut, was published in 2012. Most of his novels were published under his own name, but he also wrote under the pseudonyms Arthur Douglas and Dalby Holden. 

Gerald is best known for his two mystery series characters: Gunsmith Keith Calder, and Three Oaks dog kennel owner John Cunningham. Both series allowed Gerald to indulge in his passions for guns, dogs, bird hunting, fly fishing, and all things outdoors in the Scottish countryside.

In his late seventies and eighties, while up and down in health, Gerald mostly left his series characters behind. He focused instead on standalone novels. Most of these were mysteries, but others featured excitements or passions that caught his fancy, including Formula One racing (Fine Tune), and gliding (Into the Blue).

In the twenty-three Keith Calder novels and the eleven Three Oaks novels, Gerald created enduring characters with strong family ties who all aged appropriately as the series continued. Often, Gerald let one of the series secondary characters take center stage if the plot revolved around something specific to their personality or situation.

The Keith Calder series started with Dead Game in 1979: Keith Calder is an itinerant gunsmith and shooting instructor. He is also a rascal with total disregard for the law, a skilled and dedicated poacher of birds of both feathers.

Calder is the guest at a shoot in the Scottish Borders when one of the syndicate members dies – apparently by accident. However, a bullet is found in his body. Yet only shotguns were carried on the shoot. Was he killed by a sniper or by a stray bullet? Or is there some other explanation?

Calder has a personal and very secret interest in the case, but his involvement deepens when the brother of his current girlfriend, Molly, is arrested and charged with the murder – especially as there is no love lost between the two men.

Molly asks Keith to use his expertise on her brother’s behalf. But in agreeing to make his own inquiries, Calder finds he is trying to save himself, and his activities lead him and Molly into violent personal danger.

In 1989, Gerald introduced Captain John Cunningham in the first Three Oaks mystery, Dog in the Dark: Captain John Cunningham is a veteran of the Falklands war who has recently been invalided out of the army.  Deciding to set up in civilian life as a trainer and breeder of gun dogs – a passion he can indulge and also earn a little money. He takes on Isobel Kitts as a partner, a trained vet whose skill is matched, perhaps too strongly, by her enthusiasm. 

Dog breeding proves to be a ruthlessly competitive business – and a hazardous one, as Cunningham learns when another breeder is found murdered.  Wore, it is soon discovered that the weapon was a product of Cunningham’s own workshop.

With the comfortable new life he’s planned under threat, Cunningham must extricate himself from a situation as dangerous, in its way, as anything he faced during his military career.

1991 brought the publication of the seventeenth Keith Calder novel, In Camera, a tale which Gerald and I had discussed in depth as it was being written.  My copy is hand inscribed in Gerald’s inimitable scrawl: Paul, you suggested parts of the plot. Now here's your promised copy. Hope you like it. Gerald. It holds pride of place on the shelf-and-a-half of my bookcases, which hold copies all of Gerald’s novels. 

In 2006, Gerald introduced another series character, Edinburgh's Detective Sergeant Honey Laird and her trusty crime-solving labrador, Pippa. Cold Relations was Honey’s first case, and was followed by two other novels in the series in 2007, A Dead Question and Loving Memory.

With his expert knowledge of guns and his love of the Scottish countryside, Gerald created marvelous backgrounds against which he set puzzling, credible, and thoroughly entertaining whodunits. His books were not long tedious, padded, thrillers. Instead they are almost of another age, ingenious plots, characters with whom you want to spend time, and a world to which you eagerly anticipate returning.

I enjoyed each of the books in all of Gerald’s series – and his standalones – and I continued to read and savor each new Gerald Hammond novel as it arrived. I am sad there will be no more to read. I am even sadder to have lost a good friend, but know Gerald lived a full life surrounded by family and dogs who loved him, and by the beauty of the Scottish outdoors he cherished so dearly.

For a full bibliography of Gerald Hammond’s books CLICK HERE

7 comments:

  1. Paul, I never read any of Gerald's books, but I'm sorry we lost a prolific author, and you lost such a good friend. My sympathies.

    RJR

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  2. I'm really sorry to hear this news. I met Gerald once or twice, and found him very affable, and I read and enjoyed a number of his books. Your tribute to him is admirably done; thank you.

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  3. Hello, I'm Sunita, Grandaughter of Gerald Hammond. I stumbled upon this site when I was googling my Grandfather as I wanted to know more about him. I spent my younger years with him a lot, living in the town beside him. Although now it's hard to remember what he was like, growing up and now at the age of 16, I tried to spend as much time with him as I could, knowing his condition (note that I moved away to Malaysia at the age of 10). It's hard to believe I had lost my grandfather without saying goodbye properly, but this tribute is truly wonderful. It gave me good in depth of his books, and I recognise some that are posted on here as he had them up on his kitchen wall. I use to look at all of them during dinner and I would tell myself I would read them one day. I do have some of his books, although I have not had the pleasure of reading them.
    On behalf of the Hammond Family, I would like to thank you for your kind words and the tribute

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  4. Over the years I have enjoyed his stories and more than that enjoyed knowing him through his character development and plots. He had many interests and a sense of how society was changing. On my last trip to England I made a point to visit the border areas to see if I could find a semblance of the towns portrayed in the stories. I shall miss him greatly. I would like to see what can be found of his architecture.

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  5. I was saddened to read of Gerald Hammond's passing, having discovered his books as an escape of sorts, many years ago in a boarding school library. It is testament to his skill as a writer that he captivated someone who has never visited Scotland and with little knowledge of the shooting / fishing lifestyle. I would love to read and reread his early Keith Calder books in particular, which are not easily found in Australia. Unfortunately however, he appears not to have excited the interest of the ebook merchants as yet, as this would make access so much easier.

    Thank you for penning the tribute, above.

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    1. Thx for your comments. I too wish Gerald's books would get picked up as e-books. It would really help a new generation of readers to discover him...

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  6. I have just found your excellent tribute to Gerald Hammond. I was never fortunate enough to meet him but like you started a correspondence with him the old fashioned was pen and paper. I had found a slight descrepancy in a book on re-reading the Keith Calder series and was glad to help him correct for the next book. With him sending me the only book I had been unable to buy as a thank you which I hadn't expected! There followed a lengthy correspondence both old fashioned and with email. My own mother the same age as Gerald was thrilled with the corresponding as she was a great 'Keith Calder' fan.
    I knew something must be wrong when my mail went unanswered, but knew he was suffering I'll health.
    So very sad he has passed.

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