H. Maynard Smith: the complete Inspector Frost, 1929 – 1941. The author’s own copies.

H. Maynard Smith: the complete Inspector Frost, 1929 – 1941. The author’s own copies.

Smith, Herbert Maynard (1869 – 1949). The complete Inspector Frost series, seven (7) titles including two (2) variants, for a total of nine (9) volumes. London: Benn and New York: Doubleday, 1929 to 1941. First editions. The author’s own copies, with his library stamp and occasional marginalia. Varying condition, but generally good to very good in dustwrappers.

The Rev. H. Maynard Smith (1869-1949) was a member of the Anglican clergy, serving from 1921 until his final years as Canon of Gloucester Cathedral. He published books and articles on theological and historical subjects, including an important biography of Frank Weston (1871 – 1924), bishop of Zanzibar, several books on the English Reformation, and a series of works on the writer John Evelyn.  “Mr. H. Maynard Smith is so thoroughly well sophisticated,” wrote Virginia Woolf in a TLS review of his book In Playtime (1907), “that to criticize his essays . . . is as thankless a task as, shall we say, to search for precipices in a billiard ball.”

Like several other ecclesiastics of his day such as Rev. Ronald Knox (1888 – 1957) and Rev. Victor Whitechurch (1868 – 1933), not to mention such theologically-inclined laypeople as G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, and T. S. Eliot, Smith leavened what he considered his serious work by pursuing a literary life of crime.

Smith’s series of seven novels featuring Inspector Austin Frost of Scotland Yard and his son-in-law, Detective Billy Smith, were well-regarded in their day as intellectual crime fiction but they are not the considered most cherished productions of the Golden Age of detection. In their Catalogue of Crime, Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor dismissed the series as “negligible as detection and tedious as mere adventure.” Other readers are more generous. In his blog on Golden Age mysteries, Rick Mills praises the books. “I found this story fast moving and engaging,” he writes of Inspector Frost in the City (1930). “The skullduggery of the Russians and the amusing repartee between Frost and Smith and the fantastic characters remind me of the Manning Coles adventures of Tommy Hambledon.”

T. S. Eliot praised the first book in the series, Inspector Frost’s Jigsaw (1929), in the Criterion, with a jocular reference to James Joyce:

Inspector Frost is a typical up-to-date detective, bluff and hearty, and with the air of protesting (like most up-to-date sleuths, including [Lynn Brock’s character] Col. Gore) against being thought a Sherlock Holmes. That is the chief weakness of most modern detectives: that they are too self-consciously not being Sherlock Holmes. “Here I am,” they say like modern statesmen, ‘a simple plain man with a home and a supper, just like yourselves, only a little stupider.’ But the Jigsaw is a good detective story of the second class. We note that the action is dated and times for every minute within a few days: we must expect soon a detective story shaped on the form of Ulysses, within a single day.

A dozen years later, Eliot acquired the last book in the series for Faber, Inspector Frost in the Background (1941), with the proviso that the author “be so kind as to remove the references to the other books about Inspector Frost which we have not had the pleasure and profit of publishing ourselves.”  In a letter to Eric Fenn of the BBC of 11 February 1942, Eliot offered further praise for Canon Smith and Inspector Frost:

Canon Maynard Smith of Gloucester … is an oldfashioned port-and-calf-bindings type of Canon but is human and humorous, and is also the author of a number of excellent detective stories about Inspector Frost, in which most of the people are very nice and everything that happens is in good taste.

            Underrepresented in American collections, Smith’s Inspector Frost mysteries are difficult to find. The present offering comprises the author’s own copies of the books, worn from use. Each bears the stamp of the author's personal library, which he shared with his brother, the Rev. J. Outram Smith (1871-1954). Several volumes have his marginalia. The set includes:

1.  Inspector Frost's Jigsaw. London: Benn, 1929. First edition. Light fading to spine, spine ends a little frayed. Lacking the jacket.

2.  -----. New York: The Crime Club, 1929. First American edition. Very good in a complete but worn and faded example of the dustwrapper.

3.  Inspector Frost in the City. New York: The Crime Club, 1930. First American edition. Very good in chipped dustwrapper.

4.  Inspector Frost and Lady Brassingham. London: Benn, 1930. First edition. dust-jacket, spine a little browned, spine ends and corners a little chipped, rubbing to extremities,

5.  Inspector Frost and the Waverdale Fire. London: Benn, 1931. First edition. Author’s annotations to endpaper and corrections to text. Light sunning to spine, spine panel loose, corners a little bumped. Lacking the jacket.

6.  Inspector Frost in Crevenna Cove. London: Benn, 1933. First edition (red cloth variant). An attractive copy in dust-jacket, 6/- price sticker to spine.

7.  -----. Another copy. First edition (black cloth variant). Author’s annotations to endpaper and corrections to text. A near fine copy, lacking the jacket.

8.  Inspector Frost and the Whitbourne Murder. London: Benn, 1939. First edition. Very good in dustwrapper.

9.  Inspector Frost in the Background. London: Faber, 1941. First edition, second impression. Very good in dustwrapper.

Canon Smith’s criminous works are missing from most collections of Golden Age detection; this is a unique set.

Selected References

  • Barzun, Jacques and Wendell Hertig Taylor, A Catalogue of Crime. New York: Harper & Row, 1971
  • Eliot, T. S. The Letters of T. S. Eliot, volume 9: 1939–1941, ed. Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden. London: Faber & Faber, 2021
  • -----. [Review essay]. Criterion 8 (1928–29): 760–61
  • Woolf, Virginia, “Selected Times Literary Supplement reviews,” ed. B. J. Kirkpatrick. Modern Fiction Studies, 38 (1992): 284-301

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    H. Maynard Smith: the complete Inspector Frost, 1929 – 1941. The author’s own copies.