STEPHEN LEWIS is dazzled by a new novel set in Scarborough at the height of the Jazz Age

SCARBOROUGH in the 1930s: the Jazz Age. The Great Depression had been and gone, and the shadows of the Second World War had yet to appear.

The world had gone mad over the latest sporting craze – the hunt for giant tuna, or ‘tunny’. Fish weighing more than 600 lbs and measuring twice the height of a man had been caught in the North Sea. It was the ultimate in big-game angling: man against fish, in the grey waters off the north Yorkshire Coast.

Some of the world’s most celebrated anglers descended on Scarborough – including the bestselling US author Zane Grey and Lorenzo Mitchell-Henry, holder of the world record for a ‘tunny’.

In their wake came the cream of London society – and journalists writing for the society newspapers.

There were regular updates in the London gossip pages. “Every day in London, there was a piece saying ‘Lady so-and-so caught a 600 lb tunny,” says author Robert Hudson.

Huge yachts transformed the harbour at Scarborough into something more resembling Monte Carlo. Among them was Baron Henri de Rothschild’s 1,000 ton yacht ‘Eros’.

Local trawler skipper Edwin Mann would come on board each day to show the Baron the fishing grounds, according to the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre.

It was a beautifully painted yacht – white with a yellow funnel.

While anglers fished from his yacht, Baron de Rothschild “paraded around the deck in a red flannel suit”, says Mr Hudson.

This Scarborough is the setting for 39-year-old Mr Hudson’s new novel, The Dazzle. It is a novel stuffed with a gallery of largerthan- life characters. Some such as Zane Grey, Lorenzo Mitchell-Henry and the adventurer Mike Mitchell- Hedges are based on real people.

Others – such as the glamorous femme fatale Henny Rosefield and the fast-living Johnny Fastolf, Earl of Caister, are invented characters.

The blurb inside the front cover gives you a clue as to what kind of a world they inhabit. “In the harbour, damaged dilettantes… swap beds and swap lies. Far offshore, on the rips and tides of the malevolent North Sea, gallant battle will be done. All the while, something truly dangerous is lurking…”

And so it is. The book opens with a young prostitute dying of a drug overdose in a bedroom at the Earl of Caister’s Surrey manor. In the United States, a young woman breaks out of an asylum, invents a new identity for herself, and seduces renowned author and champion angler Zane Grey. And adventurer Mike Mitchell-Hedges also homes in on Grey, urging him to take up a challenge to head for Scarborough to catch the biggest fish in the world.

It’s a book full of sex, and lies; deceit and shifting perceptions.

Above all looms The Dazzle – Johnny Caister’s magnificent yacht, resplendent in jagged stripes of black, white and blue. From its decks, the Earl launches the ultimate angling challenge.

A lot of the book is the result of his own imagination, admits Hudson, who was born in Zimbabwe but grew up in Essex.

“But we didn’t invent sex in our own age. These aristocrats I write about were the celebrities of their day. There have always been gossip papers. Today they write about reality TV stars. Then it was about aristocrats.”

Scarborough during the Jazz Age was a booming resort and fishing town. There was a real grandeur about it, says Hudson, who now lives in Kilburn but visited the town twice while researching his book.

Some of that grandeur has now gone, he says – but you can still see the echoes of it today: in the Grand Hotel, and in The Tunny Club – the fish and chip shop in the building that was once the headquarters of the British Tunny Club.

You’ll find plenty of echoes of the long-lost Scarborough of The Jazz Age in The Dazzle. Hudson has a Ph.D in ‘intellectual history’ – and he’s done his research.

But above all this is a gripping adventure story – one told from multiple points of view, in which the narrators deceive themselves and everyone else, and in which you never really know who you can trust.


• The Dazzle by Robert Hudson is published in hardback by Jonathan cape, priced £16.99


• THERE is obviously something in the air in Scarborough.

Because not one but two new novels set in the town have just been published.

One is The Dazzle. The other is a contemporary thriller, The Other Child, by Charlotte Link.

A young student is found brutally murdered in the town.

Form months, the police have few leads. Then an elderly woman with no apparent link to the first victim meets a similar death.

Detective Inspector Valerie Almond concentrates on investigating a rift in the second victim’s family. But there is more to the case than first appears.

Valerie uncovers a dark secret and a sinister link to the evacuation of children to Scarborough during the Second World War.

The Other Child by Charlotte Link is published by Orion, priced £7.99