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Ford, Sewell

"Former reporter and editor on New York, Baltimore and Boston papers, who gave up newspaper work for creative writing. Publication of his first book was in 1901. Popular demand led to his creation of a series of stories which were widely syndicated. He also wrote for many magazines. Died October 26, 1946 at the age of 78." Dessicated obituary!
F/012

"In fiction," someone once observed, "coincidence should be used as sparely as death." That's as may be. I look back over the æons of my existence so far and see, time after time, happy chance and no accident.

Among other gifts, a visit to gutenberg.org one day threw up a Shorty McCabe story in the recently added list. I was hooked before the end of the first chapter. Softened up, perhaps, by the nineteenth century New York of Time and again, I was entirely ready for the buzzing, sparkingly lively New York of the early twentieth. This is still the age of "money for fun", with financiers and railroad presidents fighting off the Interstate Commerce Commission. "Pyramid" Gordon has to appear before a Senate commission in a hurry? he has his private Pullman hitched to the Limited, and the arrival of two unexpected guests for supper on board poses no problem. Trilby May and Inez get thrown out of their job dispensing orange-juice? by the end of the chapter they've taken the trolley out to the country and had their first brush with the movies. In the later books, the Great War and Prohibition – "What do you think of this near beer?" "I think the guy that named it has a pretty poor sense of distance." – update the setting but don't spoil it.

To my mind, Sewell Ford is a writer with a cheerful imagination, the enthusiasm to sail his stories past occasional shoals of coincidence and cliché, the wit to shape apt similes and a sense of place and time that makes his character's now vividly persuasive.

Nifty plots, engaging characters and entertaining turns of phrase … what more could you want? Fluent but not careless writing, perhaps, and that's just what Ford delivers. Her eyes sparking like trolley wheels on a wet night – bang on for its period, when everyone urban went everywhere by trolley, and accurately observed.

Head over to gutenberg.org and try some Ford for yourself; Odd Numbers could be a good start, or Torchy. Just prepare to look up from page or screen and catch yourself thinking "what a dull, regimented world we live in now".


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