b. 1926 – d. 2011
H.R.F Keating Henry Reymond Fitzwalter ‘Harry’ Keating was an English crime fiction writer most notable for his series of novels featuring Inspector Ghote of the Bombay CID. He also wrote many non-Ghote crime stories, several general novels — including two with Victorian backgrounds (The Strong Man and The Underside) — and other works under the pen-name of Evelyn Harvey. But it is his Indian detective, with his gentle, ironic persona and manners far removed from Western 20th-century culture, for which Keating will be remembered.
H.R.F. Keating remembered – by P.D. James
H.R.F Keating, invariably called Harry, was among the most versatile and popular crime writers of the late twentieth and early 21st centuries, decades in which the detective story reached a popularity both with writers and readers that was reminiscent of the so-called Golden Age between the wars. Harry Keating will probably be best remembered for the creation of his endearing and modest detective, Ganesh Ghote, an inspector in the Bombay Police, a man in marked contrast to the macho, gun-toting heroes of much crime fiction. Inspector Ghote first made his appearance in The Perfect Murder, the book which won a Gold Dagger award from the Crime Writers’ Association and gained an Edgar Allan Poe award from the Mystery Writers of America. Ghote was as popular with Indian readers as he was with those at home, and both were surprised that Keating could enter so fully into Indian life and its police force long before he had visited the subcontinent. The very essence of India – the sights, the smells, the voices – seems to rise from the page. When he finally did visit, he was received with enthusiasm both by his readers and by the Mumbai Police, who greeted him as a hero.
Harry was born in 1926 in St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex. He claimed that his father chose his names – Henry Reymond Fitzwalter – because H.R.F. Keating would look memorable on the spine of a novel. He received his university education at Trinity College, Dublin, where he played a full part in college activities and took a first-class degree in French and English, a distinction he never mentioned. After his period of National Service, he began his writing career as a journalist, first in Swindon, and then as sub-editor on the Daily and later The Times and the Observer. It was his wife, the actor Sheila Mitchell, who, always a strong supporter of his writing, encouraged him to write his first novel and to make it a detective story, and the main course of his life was set.
It was always his ambition to be a full-time writer and, after the success in 1959 of Death and the Visiting Fireman, he felt he was able to fulfil this aim, helped financially by his part-time job of reviewing crime novels for The Times. He did this brilliantly for fifteen years, revealing a remarkable skill for the difficult art of distilling the essence of a novel in a couple of paragraphs, lucid, informative and perceptive. The reviews were also important in bringing to notice new talent which otherwise might have been ignored at a time when crime writing, other than the most successful, seldom found a place in the limited space allotted to reviews.
Inspector Ghote appears in 24 novels, but Keating also created the crime-solving charlady, Mrs Craggs, and, under the pseudonym Evelyn Harvey, wrote seven police procedurals about a woman chief inspector, Harriet Martens. But his writing was not confined to fictional crime. His critical works include Sherlock Holmes: The Man and His World in 1979, and Whodunit? A Guide to Crime, Suspense and Spy Fiction in 1982,while his Crime and Mystery: The 100 Best Books,published in 1987, shows the variety of his reading in the crime genre and his perception in reviewing it.
A Long Walk to Wimbledon, which appeared in 1978 and in which the protagonist makes his dangerous way across a devastated London in the aftermath of an unspecified disaster, showed a versatility which would have brought him success in other aspects of the novel. The extensive reading involved in his reviews and critical works on crime fiction gave Harry an encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre in all its variety, and whenever a journalist or academic had a question about crime writing, it was usual to refer him to Harry Keating.
From 1985 to 2000 he was President of the Detection Club, and both in this capacity and as a novelist and reviewer he honoured good writing and was concerned that the crime novel at its best should have as much right as did mainstream fiction to be considered as serious literature. The quality of his own work was publicly acknowledged; he twice won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger and in 1996 was awarded the Cartier Diamond Dagger for outstanding services to crime literature. In 1990 he was elected a Fellow of the RSL; he served on its Council from 1997 to 2002 without missing a single meeting – an unequalled record.
I travelled with Harry on a number of foreign visits organised by the British Council to promote English literature. He was a popular speaker and an unfailingly interesting and supportive travelling companion; for someone so modest and self-effacing he proved remarkably efficient in coping with the minor emergencies invariably associated with foreign travel. Those of us who enjoyed many happy dinners with Sheila and Harry at their London house knew how much of Ghote was present in his creator: kindness, modesty, integrity, a deep knowledge of human nature and a total dedication to the job he had chosen as his life’s work. Like Ghote, Harry was rewarded with success.