Harry was a legend for writing eight Inspector Ghote of the Bombay CID novels before having set foot in India. When at this stage Air India offered him a free flight and three week’s accommodation at The Taj Mahal hotel to give him the opportunity of experiencing the sub-continent for real, he had to make an agonising decision – what if he went and found that his researches and his imagination had created a false India, would he be able to continue the series? But such an offer was not to be refused and fortunately his fears were not realised and he went on to write a further 17 Ghote books to immense critical acclaim.
By the time of his death in 2011 Harry had published 65 books in total. The majority were crime fiction. He maintained that the good crime writer produces more compelling books than the average main-stream novelist because although there may be serious philosophical thought underlying the text of the crime story the plot must always carry the reader forward. He believed that the crime writer writes for the reader and the ‘straight’ novelist for himself. Yet four times in the fifty-two years of his published life he abandoned crime to write a main-stream novel. It turns out there was a mysterious fifth occasion which produced A Kind of Light.
HRF Keating published his first crime novel in 1959 with Victor Gollancz with whom he stayed for three further titles. Moving to Collins crime club in 1963 he won the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger in 1964 with the first of the Inspector Ghote novels, ’The Perfect Murder’ – subsequently made into a film by Merchant Ivory. In 1980 he won a second Gold Dagger with ’The Murder of the Maharajah’ and in 1996 he was awarded the prestigious Diamond Dagger for a lifetime’s achievement.
In 1988 in America he won an Edgar Alan Poe award, and was recently given a lifetime achievement award by the US organisation ‘Malice Domestic.’
For fifteen years he was ‘The Times’ crime critic establishing a reputation as one of this country’s finest assessors of the genre. He has also published several non-fiction titles which included ‘100 Best Crimes’; ‘The Bedside Companion to Crime; ‘Sherlock Holmes, the Man and His World’ and ‘How to Write Crime Fiction’ an A&C Black title which remains constantly in print. Interspersed with his crime writing came four mainstream novels, ‘The Strong Man’; ‘The Underside’; ‘A Long walk to Wimbledon’ and ‘The Lucky Alphonse’ as well as a short series of three crime novels about a Victorian governess, Miss Unwin.
But having largely concentrated on Inspector Ghote for more than twenty titles he brought the series to an end and began writing stand-alone crime books about British detectives, ‘The Good Detective’; ‘The Bad Detective’, ‘The Soft Detective’ and the ‘Hard Detective’, this last featuring Detective Superintendent Harriet Martens who then featured in a series of seven novels. He then returned to Inspector Ghote. The first of this new series, ‘Inspector Ghote’s First Case’ took the Inspector back to the start of his career with the prestigious Bombay crime squad and was published in May 2008. The second ‘A Small Case for inspector Ghote?’ appeared in May 2009.
Harry was President of the Detection Club for 17 years and during that time was also Chairman of the Society of Authors. Earlier he was the Chairman of the Crime Writers Association. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
On a lighter note he managed, through his pen, to support his wife – the actor Sheila Mitchell – and four children who have produced nine grandchildren.
Caracatures of Harry by R K Laxman