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F. Van Wyck Mason
Photo of F. Van Wyck Mason from the dust jacket of A Christmas Story Valley Forge 24 December 1777
F. Van Wyck Mason in U.S. Army Uniform
Born Francis Van Wyck Mason
November 11, 1901(1901-11-11)
Boston, MA, USA
Died August 28, 1978 (aged 76)
Burmuda
Pen name Ward Weaver, Geoffrey Coffin, Frank W. Mason
Occupation Novelist
Nationality American
Genres Pulp Fiction, Mystery, Historical Fiction

Francis Van Wyck Mason (November 11, 1901 – August 28, 1978, Bermuda) was an American historian and novelist. He had a long and prolific career as a writer spanning 50 years and including 65 published novels.

Contents

Life

Van Wyck (pronounced Wike) Mason was born to a patrician Boston family which traced its roots on the North American continent back to the 17th Century. His early life before he started writing was filled with adventure. His first eight years he lived in Berlin and then Paris where his grandfather served as U.S. Consul General. After a few years in Illinois he left for Europe in 1917 while still a teenager to fight in World War I. Like many future writers, he was an ambulance driver for a while. He then managed to enlist in the French Army where he became a decorated artillery officer. By Armistice Day he was celebrating his 17th birthday yet remarkably had already joined the U.S. Army and risen to the rank of Lieutenant. After the war he went to prep school before attending Harvard where he received his Bachelor of Science (SB) in 1924. At one time in his student days, he was mistakenly arrested for murder. Having borrowed a dinner jacket, he was wrongly identified for a waiter who at the time had committed a murder.

His hopes of entering the diplomatic corps were thwarted after the death of his father and he started an importing business instead. He spent the next few years traveling the world buying rugs and antiques before getting married and settling down. His travels were extensive and included Europe, Russia,the Near East, North Africa (9 weeks with own caravan), the West Indies, Central Africa, and a ride across Central America on horseback. He lived in New York City and was in a famous Cavalry division of the National Guard and played quite a bit of polo. This set the tone for him as he continued to travel and indulge his interest in hunting the rest of his life.

Cover from Seeds of Murder, Mason's 1st book

By 1927 he was getting ready to settle down and get married when a chance meeting with one of his college professors, John Gallishaw, encouraged him to take a stab at writing. He took Gallishaw's course in short fiction on the condition that he pay for the course out of future sales.[1] He married socialite Dorothy L. MacReady in New York City in November of that year and by May 1928 he had his first story published. He enjoyed immediate success selling to the pulp magazines and sold 18 stories before his first rejection. The magazines paid well at that time and he was soon able to build a comfortable home outside of Baltimore, Maryland. In 1930 he published his first book The Seeds of Murder which introduced Captain Hugh North, a detective in Army Intelligence and the hero in a long series of "intrigue" novels.

By 1931 he had settled into a career as an author of books as well as short fiction, publishing two more Captain North novels and his first historical novel, Captain Nemesis, which was republished from an earlier pulp serial. The historical novel apparently did not sell well because he went back to the mystery/intrigue books, publishing a dozen or so over then next 7 years. He developed his Hugh North character, who was Mason's alter ego, in these books. North was a prototype for James Bond in that he was a smooth, capable spy, as well as quite a lady killer. This series of books also seemed to predict actual military events before they took place, including a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

Mason was still selling historical stories for the pulps during this period and in 1938 returned to the genre for a major novel, Three Harbours, about the early phases of the American Revolution. By this time Mason was doing very well indeed as he was able to split his time between Nantucket, Bermuda, and Maryland. When delivering the manuscript from Nantucket, he was caught in the middle of the New England Hurricane of 1938 and had many close calls which may have ended his career right there.[2] Fortunately the manuscript was a long one and he was able to use it as a defense against flying debris.[3] He made it to New York and the book turned out to be very popular and changed his focus to historical fiction for the rest of his career, though he would continue to write Hugh North stories until 1968.

He wrote two more companion books to Three Harbours, Stars on the Sea and Rivers of Glory, as well as three more Hugh North mysteries in the years leading up to World War II. These books all did very well, especially Stars on the Sea which was a top 10 bestseller for 1940, and Mason was in his prime before the war interrupted his writing for a time. He reenlisted at the beginning of the war and suspended his writing career though he did manage to write some youth oriented war stories during the war under the name Frank W. Mason as well as publishing a couple of reworked pulp serials under the name Ward Weaver. During World War II he worked as Chief Historian serving on General Eisenhower's staff. His main responsibility was to document the war for future generations but he did lend a hand to write the famous communiqués which announced the activities of D-Day to the world. As part of his duties he followed behind or with advancing troops as they worked their way into enemy territory and was one of the first into some of the concentration camps including Buchenwald.

After the war he settled into a more leisurely pace of a little more than one book per year, which he was to maintain for the next quarter century. His style was well refined by this time and he was able to publish a string of fairly popular books. He finished his American Revolution series with Eagle in the Sky in 1948, wrote a popular novel about the famous buccaneer, Henry Morgan called Cutlass Empire in 1949, and started a trilogy on the Civil War in 1951.

He rewrote more of his pulps for the paperback market during the fifties and had a successful youth book called The Winter at Valley Forge in 1955. He would continue to write historical novels for the youth market after that as part of his mix. He also moved to Bermuda from the Baltimore area during the '50s. His wife was ill during this period and finally died in 1958.

Cover from Armored Giants, Mason's last book

He was soon remarried to Jean-Louise Hand, his long-time secretary. He spent the rest of his life in Bermuda, writing historical fiction for both the adult and youth market as well as several more Hugh North novels. He drowned off the coast of Bermuda in 1978 after having finished his final novel, Armored Giants, about the battle between the Monitor and Merrimack, which was published posthumously in 1980.

Writing Style

Mason's writing style was colorful though straightforward. He seems to use his own voice in telling these stories in the third person, though he only lets a little of his personality come through as narrator. His stories usually revolve around a heroic gentleman character. This hero is usually a little rough around the edges and may be forced to extreme measures by circumstances, but in the end, comes out on top. Based on his own life which involved extensive travel, his stories are usually either set in exotic locations, as in the Hugh North stories, or involve main characters who are getting about quite a bit.

His historical stories nearly always involve some kind of warfare and frequently include naval battles or long sea voyages. Most of his historical novels are prefaced by a fairly lengthy (usually several pages) discussion of the historical setting and context of his story. Often, through his fictional characters, Mason recounts the story of some significant but not widely known historical event. Actual historical figures are occasionally introduced as minor characters in the plot. While one may learn a little history and geography when reading his works, the main point of his stories is the excitement provided as he first makes the reader care about his main characters and then puts them into dire circumstances where they have to fight for their lives.

References

  1. ^ The New York Times, June 9, 1940, pg. BR8
  2. ^ The New York Times, September 24, 1938, pg. 10
  3. ^ The Washington Post, September 29, 1938, pg. X18

External links

1. Go to SwordAndSorcery.org for a review of Mason's Captain Judas by Andy Beau, an associate editor and columnist of the site.

Books

Cover of the 1960 Cardinal Edition paperback version of Colonel Hugh North Solves The Multi-Million-Dollar Murders by F. Van Wyck Mason. Cover illustration by Robert Abbett.
  • Seeds of Murder (1930)
  • Captain Nemesis (1931)
  • The Vesper Service Murders (1931)
  • Fort Terror Murders (1931)
  • The Yellow Arrow Murders (1932)
  • Spider House (1932)
  • The Branded Spy Murders (1932)
  • The Shanghai Bund Murders (1933)
  • The Sulu Sea Murders (1933)
  • The Budapest Parade Murders (1935)
  • Murder in the Senate (1935, as Geoffrey Coffin with Helen Brawner)
  • The Washington Legation Murders (1935)
  • The Seven Seas Murders (1936)
  • Captain North's Three Biggest Cases (1936)
  • The Forgotten Fleet Mystery (1936, as Geoffrey Coffin with A.H. Young O'Brien)
  • The Hongkong Airbase Murders (1937)
  • The Castle Island Case (1937)
  • The Cairo Garter Murders (1938)
  • Three Harbours (1938)
  • The Singapore Exile Murders (1939)
  • Stars on the Sea (1940)
  • The Bucharest Ballerina Murders (1940)
  • Hang My Wreath (1941, as Ward Weaver)
  • Military intelligence - 8 (1941)
  • The Rio Casino Intrigue (1941)
  • Oriental Division G-2 (1942)
  • Rivers of Glory (1942)
  • Q-Boat (1943, as Frank W. Mason)
  • The Fighting American (1943, editor)
  • End Of Track (1943, as Ward Weaver)
  • The Man from G-2 (1943)
  • Pilots, Man Your Planes (1944, as Frank W. Mason)
  • Flight Into Danger (1946, as Frank W. Mason)
  • Saigon Singer (1946)
  • Eagle in the Sky (1948)
  • Cutlass Empire (1949)
  • Dardanelles Derelict (1949)
  • Valley Forge: 24 December 1777 (1950)
  • Proud New Flags (1951)
  • Himalayan Assignment (1952)
  • Golden Admiral (1953)
  • The Winter at Valley Forge (1953)
  • Wild Drums Beat (1953)
  • The Barbarians (1954)
  • Blue Hurricane (1954)
  • Two Tickets For Tangier (1955)
  • Silver Leopard (1955)
  • Captain Judas (1955)
  • Our Valiant Few (1956)
  • Lysander (1956)
  • The Gracious Lily Affair (1957)
  • The Young Titan (1959)
  • Return of the Eagles (1959)
  • Secret Mission to Bangkok (1960)
  • The Battle of Lake Erie (1960)
  • Colonel Hugh North Solves The Multi-Million-Dollar Murders (1960)
  • Manila Galleon (1961)
  • The Sea 'Venture (1961)
  • The Battles for New Orleans (1962)
  • Trouble in Burma (1962)
  • Zanzibar Intrigue (1963)
  • Rascals' Heaven (1964)
  • American Men at Arms (1964, editor)
  • The Battle for Quebec (1965)
  • Maracaibo Mission (1965)
  • Wild Horizon (1966)
  • Deadly Orbit Mission (1968)
  • Roads to Liberty (1968)
  • The Maryland Colony (1969)
  • Harpoon in Eden (1969)
  • Brimstone Club (1971)
  • Log Cabin Noble (1973)
  • Trumpets Sound No More (1975)
  • Guns for Rebellion (1977)
  • Armored Giants (1980)
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