John Buxton Hilton and the Mosley Mysteries

One of the delights of buying all my books from second-hand bookstores is that occasionally I come across a forgotten author who writes like a dream. One such man is John Buxton Hilton (1921-1986), a native of Buxton, Derbyshire. He was a prolific writer of detective stories, creating no less than three major characters, each with their own series of novels.

The books about Superintendent Simon Kenworthy, a contemporary Scotland Yard detective, were published from 1968-1987; Inspector Thomas Brunt, a Victorian detective based in Derbyshire, from 1976-1987;
and Detective Inspector Mosley, also Derbyshire based, from 1983-1988.

It was the Mosley books, under the pseudonym John Greenwood, that drew my attention. I found four of the series, over a period of several months, in the 50c rack outside Twice Sold Tales in Seattle. This is my local bookstore, now sadly going out of business in the Queen Anne neighborhood, but still holding its own on Capitol Hill. At this point I was going through a phase of buying detective stories and not reading them.

Murder, Mr. Mosley was the first one I read. I was immediately taken by the character of Mr. Mosley, a wily old cove who knows the 500 odd (very odd, some of them) inhabitants of his patch of the Peak District like the back of his hand. Mosley is not above a bit of discreet breaking and entering to gather evidence he might not come across in the normal course of events; he is not above overlooking minor infractions of the law when that gives him leverage to ferret out details of a greater crime; and he is not above, indeed he takes some pride in, pulling the wool over the Assistant Chief Constable’s eyes when possession of the mere facts would only confuse him and hinder the apprehension of a villain. In other words, a copper’s copper.

The rest is history. I devoured Murder, Mr. Mosley, and then Mosley by Moonlight for a second helping. Missing Mr. Mosley is next up, and after that I have to locate the other two books in the series so I can read the remaining three in sequence. They are, unfortunately, out of print but I think fairly common. Abebooks has some booksellers offering them at only a dollar.

All of which brings me to John Buxton Hilton, the man himself. He grew up in Buxton, won a scholarship to Cambridge where he got a degree in Modern and Medieval Languages, and served as an Intelligence Officer during World War II. One his duties was to interrogate captured Nazi personnel from the concentration camps. As a result of his wartime experiences he began to write poetry, and some of his work is included in Poems of the Second World War, edited by Victor Selwyn and published by Everyman. Don’t know the date. I’m trying to track this book down.

After the war he became a teacher, ending up as the Headmaster of Chorley Grammar School, where he set up the first language lab in a British school. Later he became a Schools Inspector, and retired in 1970, although he also lectured for the new Open University. An extraordinary man and apparently a charismatic teacher.

At this point his second career began. Hilton had been writing fiction and nonfiction since 1952. Retirement gave him the chance to concentrate on the detective stories, which brought him critical acclaim in the 70s and 80s. He died, too young, of a heart attack in 1986.

From 1985 to 1989, I lived in Keswick in the Lake District. Mosley’s locale, though further east, is sufficiently close in spirit and landscape to make me feel homesick for that slower paced but slyly astute quality of rural life which Hilton brings out in these novels.

I am indebted to the Bygone Derbyshire website for the biographical information. The article, by Vivienne Smith, goes into much more detail. And here is a very skimpy Wikipedia entry on John Buxton Hilton. Not even a photograph on the web.

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