Brian Lecomber: Three Novels

Brian Lecomber novelsBrian Lecomber’s recent death (he died on 24 September 2015, at the age of 70), prompted me to pull his three novels out of the attic and read them again.

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.

Brian Lecomber in 1970s
Lecomber in the 70s

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.)

10 thoughts on “Brian Lecomber: Three Novels”

  1. Dear Grant,

    My name is Amy Lecomber and I am Brian’s daughter. Sometimes, when I am having a reflective moment at work, I google his name to tap in to the community he loved and to see pictures of him.

    I was very happy to read your post, and can confirm to the best of my knowledge that High Summer doesn’t exist, and that he wrote and arranged anthology called High Times, which was not published before he passed away. Joyce may yet do so in coming years.

    Thanks again and warmest wishes for the rest of your lively retirement,

    Amy Lecomber

    1. Amy:
      Thanks for coming by and taking the time to comment.
      I’m very glad you liked what I wrote about your father – I’m sure he’s fondly remembered by many people, for both his writing and his flying.

    2. Hi Amy
      I found this post after a Google search – please excuse the fact I am replying to an old thread….My family have a car connection with your father – my dad bought your dad’s Jaguar XK140. I know that my family always wanted to have the car restored and invite your dad for the final unveiling of the finished restoration (they now have quite a car club going!). My parents were very upset on learning of your dad’s passing and I just wanted you to know that his old car is dearly loved by all and visits Goodwood for classic car meets and your dad is very fondly remembered.

      Best wishes and kindest regards

      Nina

      1. Dear Nina,

        Thank you for your message – your reaching out is very much appreciated. I’m so pleased to hear the Jag is going strong and well loved, and I’m sure Brian would have been delighted. Good on your mum and dad! Have a lovely Christmas and New Year.

        Warm regards,

        Amy

  2. He was a delightful writer. I read all three of his novels many years ago. The genre seems to be no longer appealing to the public, as no one has tried to fill his shoes.

    1. Sadly I have just found oyt that Brian has left us. I have to agree that his books were top rate. I had the privelege of meeting him a few times on the airshow circuit and got him to sign copies of all 3 books whilst I was looking after him at the St Mawgan air day in 91 or 92 when I asked him if he had plans to write any more. I got the usual reply. God bless you mate!

  3. …bumped into Brian by accident one ‘dirty’ afternoon back in the eighties at Lucie’s (Geneva Aéroclub Buvette), after he ‘squeezed’ his Pitts Biplace between the low ceiling and the planet to a nice landing. Asked how the weather was on the way from England, he curtly replied: “8/8 of engine cowling!”
    RIP

  4. I must have been thirteen or fourteen years old when I read Talk Down; I read it in Finnish, called “Lento tuntemattomaan” (“A Flight into the Unknown”).

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