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Mason, Van Wyck

Page history last edited by Jon 11 years, 6 months ago

Van Wyck Mason Source: Wikipedia


Francis Van Wyck Mason (1901-1978) was an American historian and novelist. He had a long and prolific career as a writer spanning 50 years and including 65 published novels. He also wrote as Geoffrey Coffin, Frank W Mason and Ward Weaver. His series characters were Hugh North and Inspector Scott Stuart.


Mason was born to a Boston family which traced its roots back to the 17th Century. His first eight years were spent 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 the end of the war he had worked his way into the U.S. Army, rising 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 identified as a waiter who had committed a murder, and arrested.

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, the West Indies, Central Africa, and a ride across Central America on horseback. He lived in New York City, was in a famous Cavalry division of the National Guard and played polo.


Mason married socialite Dorothy L. MacReady in New York City in 1927 and while expecting the birth of his first son, started writing for the pulp magazines. This turned out to be successful for him because he sold his first 18 stories without a rejection, and went on to publish his first book in 1930. This book, The Seeds of Murder, introduced Captain Hugh North, a detective in Army Intelligence and the hero in a long series of "intrigue" novels. He also settled his family around Baltimore, Maryland about this time.


By 1931 he had made the transition to full-time writer, 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 smooth, capable spy. 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. This 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. The war interrupted his writing for a time 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 communiqu├ęs 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. He 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 died in 1958. Mason then married 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. 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.




Seeds of Murder (1930)

The Fort Terror Murders (1931)

The Vesper Service Murders (1931)

The Branded Spy Murders (1932)

Spider House (1932)

The Yellow Arrow Murders (1932)

The Shanghai Bund Murders aka The China Sea Murders (1933)

The Sulu Sea Murders (1933)

The Budapest Parade Murders (1935)

The Washington Legation Murders (1935)

The Seven Seas Murders (novelets) (1936)

The Castle Island Case aka The Multi Million Dollar Murders (1937)

The Hong Kong Airbase Murders (1937)

The Cairo Garter Murders (1938)

The Singapore Exile Murders (1939)

The Bucharest Ballerina Murders (1940)

Munition Ship Murders (novelets) (1941)

The Rio Casino Intrigue (1941)

Shanghai Sanctuary (novelet) (1941)

Saigon Singer (1946)

Dardanelles Derelict (1949)

Himalayan Assignment (1952)

Two Tickets to Tangier (1955)

The Gracious Lily Affair (1957)

Secret Mission to Bangkok (1960)

Trouble in Burma (1962)

Zanzibar Intrigue (1963)

Maracaibo Mission (1965)

The Deadly Orbit Mission (1968)


As Geoffrey Coffin

Murder in the Senate (1935)

The Forgotten Fleet Mystery (1936)


As Ward Weaver

End of Track (1943)

Hang My Wreath (1941) 


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