F. Van Wyck Mason’s Colonel North Mysteries

I might have missed out on reading this author’s work if not for a collector from the Midwest who has purchased a number of first editions of the Colonel North series from Old Scrolls Book Shop over the years for her son’s growing collection.   (Thank you, Bonnie!)  The collector’s interest sparked my curiosity enough to hold one of these novels back for my own reading (I started with The Shanghai Bund Murders, considered to be one of the best).  I was pleasantly surprised, and was soon in search of more books by F. Van Wyck Mason for my own enjoyment.

Himalayan Assignment (First Edition, Doubleday & Co. 1952)

Francis Van Wyck Mason (1901-1978) was a prolific American writer of 78 novels who was as famous for his historical fiction as for his suspenseful espionage novels featuring Captain Hugh North of G-2, U.S. Army Intelligence (later Colonel North as he moved up in rank).

The Gracious Lily Affair (First Edition, Doubleday & Co, 1957)

Suave Hugh North’s stamping ground was the world, his knowledge of criminology immense, his sophistication and keen mind fascinating to observe.  The settings in which he played, from Shanghai to Tangier, were vividly rendered and historically accurate.  The plots were suspenseful, unpredictable, and believable.

Two Tickets for Tangier (First Edition, Doubleday & Co., 1955)

I find it intriguing that Hollywood never brought any of these smartly written novels to the silver screen – in my opinion they were at least as good as Ian Fleming’s 007 stories, which followed later. (The series began with Seeds of Murder, published in 1930 ending with The Deadly Orbit Mission, published in 1968;  Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1953 and ended with Octopussy published in 1966.  There was some overlap here, with Mason being the more prolific writer.)  Colonel North, of course, is a completely American agent, while 007 is utterly British.

Zanzibar Intrigue, First Edition, Doubleday & Co., 1963)

Not surprisingly, F. Van Wyck Mason led an intriguing life of his own, which contributes to the authenticity of the stories and locales.  As a child he experienced life in Paris and Berlin while his father served as U.S. Consul General, and like many great novelists who emerged from that era, he served as an ambulance driver during World War I.   He joined the French Army and became a decorated artillery officer, and was awarded the Legion of Honor.  By the time he was 17 he had become a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.  After the war he attended Harvard, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1924.

There are numerous bibliographies available listing all of this author’s works, but I was unable to locate a list which singled out his Captain North / Colonel North mysteries (in the early novels, he was Captain North).  Here’s a list of them which I have compiled and I believe is accurate; if anyone cares to make additions or corrections, feel free to contact me in the comment section!  Some of the scarce early novels in first edition are currently going for three figures when found in very good or better condition in like dustjacket.

Seeds of Murder (Doubleday Crime Club, 1930)

The Vesper Service Murders (Doubleday Crime Club, 1931)

The Fort Terror Murders (Doubleday Crime Club, 1931)

The Yellow Arrow Murders (Doubleday Crime Club, 1932)

Spider House (The Mystery League, NY, 1932)

The Branded Spy Murders (Doubleday Crime Club, 1932)

The Sulu Sea Murders  (Doubleday Crime Club, 1933)

The Shanghai Bund Murders (G. P. Putnam, 1933)

The Budapest Parade Murders (Doubleday Crime Club, 1935)

The Washington Legation Murders (Doubleday Crime Club, 1935)

The Seven Seas Murders (Doubleday Crime Club, 1936)

The Hongkong Airbase Murders (Doubleday Crime Club, 1937)

The Cairo Garter Murders (Doubleday Crime Club, 1938)

The Singapore Exile Murders (Doubleday Crime Club, 1939)

The Bucharest Ballerina Murders (Frederick A. Stokes, 1940)

The Rio Casino Intrigue (Reynal & Hitchcock, 1941)

Saigon Singer (Doubleday, 1946)

Himalayan Assignment (Doubleday, 1952)

Two Tickets for Tangier (Doubleday, 1955)

The Gracious Lily Affair (Doubleday, 1957)

Secret Mission to Bangkok (Doubleday,1960)

Trouble In Burma (Doubleday, 1962)

Zanzibar Intrigue (Doubleday, 1963)

Maracaibo Mission (Doubleday, 1965)

The Deadly Orbit Mission (Doubleday, 1968)

A fairly extensive biography of the author is available  here on Wikipedia .

Books by F. Van Wyck Mason usually available at Old Scrolls Book Shop!


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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. In the English language, it seems that only Sax Rohmer has Mason beat for staying with one series. Mason wrote the Hugh North books for 38 years.

  2. I am the granddaughter of F Van Wyck Mason. You did a very nice review on my Grandfather and I thank you. He wrote many historical novels as well as the North series. My favorite was Silver Leopard. He wrote near the end of his life a children’s book about the Maryland colony. When I was teaching, I would read some of his books to my class to extend their vocabulary.

    If you wish to know more feel free to contact me.
    Regards, Lee Mason Hodges

    • Hello Lee,
      How nice of you to leave a comment here about your grandfather! His books are still popular, especially the North series–we have several customers who collect them. I enjoy his writing so much, but was unaware that he wrote a children’s book. I will be looking for that one. What was the title?
      – Catherine Petruccione
      Old Scrolls Book Shop

    • Ms. Hodges,

      What a pleasant surprise to discover this site and your post. My only regret is that I did not discover it until now when your comments were posted many months ago.

      In 1958 at the age of 12 I read “The Washington Legation Murders” from my Mother’s library and was hooked for life. In college I corresponded with your Grandfather to add personal substance to a research paper about his life, writing style and methods. Through his secretary/spouse(Jeanne Louise Hand Mason) he was kind enough to respond and even sent me a letter detailing his writing methods with several of his hand-written and hand edited pages of manuscript for “Manila Galleon”.

      Over years of hunting in used book stores, later augmented with purchases on the Internet, I managed to compile a complete collection (multiple editions, first editions, autographed, etc,) of all your Grandfather’s works, including those authored under his pseudonyms. I even managed to obtain recordings of his several radio appearances and a few serialized novelettes in pulp magazines, but still cannot find a copy of the one movie I understand was made from “The Singapore Exile Murders.” I still believe that both his mysteries/international intrigue and historical novels are among the best works ever published. Each have been read and re-read numerous times, and will most likely continue doing so many more times…and still search for any new additions to my collection that I might find.

      Today, when I discovered this blog, it was a thrill to actually read a comment posted by a relative of his. I think of his work and his life often, and now I realize in so many ways how much an influence and difference Col. Mason has had in my life. I would love learning more about your Grandfather if those memories are things you would still like to share. I can be reached by email at tgrimes834@aol.com and will return to this website in the future now that I have discovered it. I hope you are doing well, and that this reply brightens your day knowing that your Grandfather has been such a bright and meaningful part of my life.

      My best personal regards,
      Thomas Grimes

  3. Ms. Hodges, a fellow named R. Croxton has a podcast, and he expressed interest in covering the Hugh North series. http://thebookcave.libsyn.com/

    Also, if you have further information on the Nick Cardy proposed Major North newspaper strip, that might help.

  4. One small error in your list. Spider House is not a Hugh North story. My father introduced me to the series in 1959. Only in the last few years have I located what I feel is the most elusive title, The Seven Seas Murders, which is actually 4 short stories.

    • Hello Richard,
      Thank you for sharing your correction on Spider House. I appreciate input from readers — we can all learn from each other.
      Congratulations on finding a copy of The Seven Seas Murders! I have never seen a copy.
      Kind Regards,
      Cathy Petruccione
      Old Scrolls Book Shop

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