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Davidson Lionel

Lionel Davidson (born March 31, 1922) is an English novelist who has written a number of acclaimed spy thrillers.



Lionel Davidson was born in 1922 in Hull, Yorkshire, one of eight children of an immigrant Jewish tailor. He left school early and worked in the London offices of the Spectator magazine as an office boy. Later, he joined the Keystone Press Agency. During World War II, he served with the Submarine Service of the Royal Navy.

When the war ended, he returned to the Keystone Agency and travelled all over Europe as a freelance reporter. It was during one of these trips that he got the idea for his first thriller. The Night Of Wenceslas was published in 1960. Set in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War, the novel tells the story of young Nicolas Whistler, a 24-year-old Londoner whose business trip to Prague goes horribly awry. Its taut prose and masterful plot made The Night of Wenceslas an instant, massive success, and immediately pushed Davidson into the front ranks of the genre, inviting favourable comparisons with such luminaries as Eric Ambler, Graham Greene and John Le Carré. Davidson became one of the handful of living writers to have their first novel appear in a green Penguin jacket. The book won the Crime Writers' Association's Gold Dagger Award (the top prize for crime and spy fiction in Britain) as well as the Author's Club Best First Novel Award. It was also adapted into a film, with Dirk Bogarde in the role of Whistler.

His second novel The Rose Of Tibet (1962) was equally well-received. A Long Way To Shiloh (1966) won Davidson his second Gold Dagger, and he was to repeat the feat again with The Chelsea Murders (1978).

Oddly enough, Davidson then went into an extended hiatus after the publication of The Chelsea Murders. He was not to write another thriller for the next sixteen years. Kolymsky Heights appeared in 1994 to enormous international acclaim and introduced its author to a new generation of readers.

Nonetheless, Davidson never quite managed to fulfil his early promise to become a true giant of British spy fiction. As his output dwindled, so did his fame. Although his best novels are of an exceptionally high quality, overall he is no longer thought of in the same company as Ambler or Le Carré, and his popular following is now correspondingly smaller.

In 2001, he was awarded the CWA's Cartier Diamond Dagger lifetime achievement award, for making 'a significant contribution to crime fiction published in the English language'.

Davidson has written a number of children's novels under the pseudonym David Line. He lives in north London with his second wife Frances Ullmann