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FFB: Murder for Treasure

Tags: treasure

Welshman David Williams (1926-2003), the son of a journalist, studied modern history at St. John's College in Oxford, though his studies were interrupted by World War II and three years he spent as an officer in the Royal Navy. After the war, he began a career in advertising as a medical copywriter, rising through the ranks at various companies until he started his own agency.

On the side, Williams developed his hobby of writing crime fiction and published his first novel in 1976, Unholy Writ. He said of his efforts,"I write whodunits which are aimed to be above all credible, civilised entertainments, incidentally informative. And to lace them with humour - the last as an enduring legacy from two friends and mentors, Bruce Montgomery (who wrote as Edmund Crispin) and Kingsley Amis." His ultimate hero in crime fiction was the witty author Michael Innes.

At the age of 51, Williams suffered a major stroke that almost killed him. Eventually, he overcame partial paralysis and impaired speech to make a recovery, but realizing he wouldn't be able to work at his old career, he decided to take up crime writing full time. His series featuring urbane and humorous banker Mark Treasure and his successful actress wife Molly eventually included 19 installments that received good reviews, primarily for his wit and plotting. This latter bit amused him, because, as he said, "I rarely know the identity of the killer until the penultimate chapter." 

Two of Williams' books were shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger Award, including 1980's Murder for Treasure, and Williams was later elected to the Detection Club. However, that fame didn't stop his disappointment at not having the Treasure books adapted for television like Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse series. Toward that end, he started a new series featuring Chief Inspector Merlin Parry of the South Wales Constabulary, along with his sidekick, Sergeant Gomer Lloyd, but TV executives weren't interested in the four books in that series, unfortunately.

Murder for Treasure was the third of the Treasure books, and sends London banker Mark Treasure to a tiny West Wales sailing village. His quest: to convince elderly Judge Henry Nott-Herbert to sell his stock in Rigley's Patent Footbalm to the American Hutstacker Chemical Corporation. On the train to Wales, Treasure becomes involved in the attempted murder of an Australian clergyman, who disappears, along with a mysterious package Treasure was given to deliver to the judge. When Treasure sees two tough-looking youths with the package at one of the train stops, gunfire ensues and the package rips open to reveal a shrunken, hairy head with a painted face—a ventriloquist's doll.

The strangeness continues once Treasure arrives in the village. He finds the rich judge—an amateur magician who's about to wed the lovely young widow Anna Spring—obsessed with a sighting by a "psychic" and her parrot of a naked dead body in the harbor, a body that later went missing. Stranger and more serious still, the clergyman's corpse turns up seaside, and Treasure finds himself in the middle of Anna's love life, an insurance scam, corrupt cops, and the deceptions of foot-balm executives and their sultry spouses.

Most of Williams' books are out of print, although Black Dagger re-released Murder for Treasure in 2000, Treasure Up in Smoke in 2003 and Treasure by Degrees in 2004. Back in 2012, a Bello Best of British Crime Omnibus released a volume including A Game of Murder, by Francis Durbridge; Murder in Moscow, by Andrew Garve; and Williams' Prescription for Murder.


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FFB: Murder for Treasure


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