It was with much sadness that I learnt, last week, of the death of my long-term friend Margaret Yorke. Margaret was a crime writer of some considerable worth, having produced, on average, a crime novel each year from 1970 until her chosen retirement in 2001; this following on from another dozen novels which she would describe as mainly ‘problem’ novels.
Margaret’s crime novels lean towards the country village type, in which troubles slow-burn and people aren’t always what they seem; social issues of the day are tackled in such a way as to integrate them seamlessly with the plot, and sometimes the good guys don’t live happily ever after. Always satisfying to read, and still in demand today, as shown by the recent new editions that House of Stratus published in May 2012.
But as well as all this, Margaret was a friend, and a friend of almost 30 years’ standing. I remember buying my first Margaret Yorke novel, “The Smooth face of Evil”, from the West End Bookshop in Cornwall in 1984 and enjoying it so much that I wrote and told her. That letter eventually reached Margaret via her publisher. In her reply she apologised for the delay – so characteristic of her generosity that she had time for a 17 year old ‘fan’, but we established a regular correspondence that developed into a warm friendship. We talked about such a variety of subjects – from each new book I bought and read of hers, to other books she would recommend to me, to her so-welcome encouragement when I left home for the first time, to start my career.
In 1986, living in Wiltshire, I was a regular customer of the bookshops in Charing Cross Road, and at Margaret’s suggestion I was at the new Murder One Bookshop on the day it opened its doors on Denmark Street. This was the first time we met in person and yet again her wonderful personality put me at ease in this company of authors and literati! I was introduced as one of her favourite readers to other authors, with the catchphrase “He buys hardbacks, you know!”
Over the next few years I had the privilege of meeting up with Margaret a number of times: at a local book fair in Berkshire and at her home in Buckinghamshire. After I relocated to Scotland in 1991, our get-togethers may have been fewer, but our friendship remained strong and our correspondences were kept up. It was always a pleasure to exchange letters with Margaret and, in later years, emails, as we both embraced technology – Margaret, I suspect, embracing said technology with a great deal more enthusiasm than me! In 2001, she gave me a copy of her last published book – a typically kind gesture.
29 years on, Margaret’s books sit well on my shelves still, and will remain so. A clever and entertaining writer, a wonderful lady and a good friend. I will miss her, but I will recall our friendship with a smile and not with sadness.