He was first and foremost an aerobatic pilot, most recently known for his Firebird Aerobatics display team. Here he is in action with John Taylor:
Lecomber (say ləˈkɒmbə(r); it rhymes with “sombre”, not “Homer”) was an automobile journalist who learned to fly in 1967, became a wing-walker in a flying circus, and then a flying instructor in the Caribbean. He wrote his first novel, Turn Killer, in 1975 while working in Antigua. Two more novels followed: Dead Weight in 1976 and Talk Down in 1978. Then he joined the Rothmans Aerobatic Team and immediately stopped writing, on the grounds that it was “bloody boring”. Compared to aerobatics, you’d have to agree.
Dead Weight was the first of his books that I read—a thriller involving smuggling Krugerrands around the Caribbean in light aircraft. It’s relentlessly pacy, tightly plotted, and involves a lot of flying. What’s not to like? Lecomber makes you understand the technical difficulty of concealing a large weight of gold safely in a small aeroplane; he builds believability by casually dropping in detail of Air Traffic Control formalities (or informalities!) along the Caribbean island chain at that time; and he produces a genuine sweaty-palm sequence involving an engine fire over water in a rickety old Twin Beech.
Lecomber described his first book, Turn Killer, as “dreadful”, but it’s actually not that bad. The writing is a bit overwrought, it’s gratuitously violent at times, the plot is a little loose. Flying sequences feature at the beginning (murder in a flying circus, drawing on Lecomber’s wing-walking experience to good effect), and at the end. A classic piece of engaging Lecomber detail involves the difficulty of chucking a large weight out of the back door of a small twin-engine aircraft, if you’re a single-handed pilot. The implications for the trim of the aircraft are … difficult to deal with.
His final book, Talk Down, is nothing but flying. It narrates a four-hour period during which a young woman with no flying experience, stranded in the cockpit of a light aircraft with an unconscious pilot, is talked through the process of landing the aeroplane. It’s as much an “Air Traffic Control procedural” as a thriller, but Lecomber makes sure we feel the anxiety (and occasional despair) of those involved. There’s inevitably a lot of aviation detail, but it never undermines the building tension of the story. To some extent it prefigures the real experience of John Wildey in 2013:
You can pick up reading copies of all these books for a pound or two from the second-hand book sites. For a tight aviation thriller, try Dead Weight; for a genuinely tense drama, Talk Down. If you like these, then you’ll probably enjoy Turn Killer, too.
(Two other titles will turn up if you search for books under Lecomber’s name: Letzter Looping is a German translation of Turn Killer; High Summer seems never to have existed, though it does have an assigned ISBN. I wonder if it was a provisional title for one of his existing novels.)