It was a Mr Phillip Challinor who first mentioned the name LP Davies to me and I was immediately
entranced by the title of a suggested novel Psychogeist. I ordered up 8 of his books that day.
I commenced the usual search to try and track down the author or his estate. That process itself showed that this author, who was obsessed with identity (the subject of almost his entire ouevre), was himself something of an unknown quantity.
Having compiled a dossier based on Google, Wikipedia and various people finding services I had amassed a very slight profile and had learned little about the where the man himself might be. It seemed probable that he had passed away. Evidence suggested, however, that his wife Winifred Davies (nee Tench) might well still be alive, since her putative birthdate suggested that she was 30 years his junior - a date I can now definitively refute. Several sources suggested he had moved to Tenerife but gave little detail.
Having received some of his Doubleday editions in the post, I realised that most of the online material about him had been compiled on the basis of these brief dust jacket biographies. The facts were as follows:
- Born in Crewe, Cheshire, England, 20 October 1914
- Graduate of Manchester University
- Served in the British Army Medical Corps in France
- His jobs included pharmacist, optician, painter, tobacconist, gift shop owner and writer
- Author of over 20 novels combining mystery, suspense, crime and science fiction
- Married to Winifred Tench (born 1945 - this turned out to be false)
- Lived in Deganwy, North Wales at least until 1973 but moved to the Canaries before 1976.
- May have been a gift shop owner in the Canaries.
- He used several aliases including Leslie Vardre, under which name he wrote for the BBC
The only fact that was not apparent from any of the dust jackets was a single entry on IMDB which suggested he had died in Puerto Cruz in Tenerife. Where that nugget comes from I have never discovered.
My next step was to start contacting any Winifred Davies I could find. I had rather arbitrarily decided that she would more than likely have returned to their Welsh home. I proceeded to contact approximately thirty Winifred Davies by telephone and mail - a mostly highly embarrassing exercise involving a lot of very over complicated explanations and a certain amount of unexpected suspicion on the part of many of those of thirty very nice ladies - none of whom had the slightest clue what I was talking about. Frustrated but undaunted I proceeded to contact people in Tenerife. My first stop: all gift shop owners. Next: the search for anyone with the name Davies. Again I reached a dead end.
In the meantime, taking a more bibliographical approach, I had now contacted the only author who I knew had written on his work, ST Joshi. His book The Evolution of the Weird Tale, which I can heartily recommend, has an excellent chapter on Davies. Getting in touch with him by email I elicited only the information that he had spoken to his agent Howard Moorepark in 1980 and Mr Davies had at that time been alive and in the Canaries. He had not spoken to Mr Davies directly and did not know if he was still in the land of the living.
Sitting in my hub one evening, it came to me that the time for amateur work had ended: you may be able to google some of the people some of the time, but you can't google all of the people all of the time. In this spirit I compiled what I knew into a brief dossier and found and engaged the services of a private detective based in the Canaries. A quiet month passed. Finally a report was forwarded, from which I take the following extract:
"Enquiries at the cemetery and at All Saints revealed that Leslie Purnell Davies died on 6th January 1988 aged 73 years and his remains are interred in Niche No 308, the plaque bearing the inscription 'In loving memory of my husband'. It was further revealed that a Winifred Davies died on 21st April 1988 aged 69 years and her remains were interred in Niche No 310, the plaque bearing the inscription 'Now reunited with her loving husband'."
This is principal finding but you can see the entire report, though I have had to censor it to protect the identity of the investigator. Further enquiries revealed nothing more. Three months of investigation ending with two numbered niches.
Looking at his photograph I get the same strange, ambiguous feeling; what kind of expression is it? There is a hint of geniality around the mouth, but the eyes are stern or even fierce; the clothes and the speckled tan across his high forehead give him a strongly colonial look. What can we tell about the man from his books? He liked women - alot. He was a man who had experienced danger, or at least seen action firsthand. He was a man who never relaxed about what he saw in the mirror. He had a dark side: the perfunctory optimism of the endings of his books, is always completely overshadowed by the strange mystery and pessimism of his openings.