Geoffrey Homes included many autobiographical elements in his The Man Who Didn't Exist (1937). His series sleuth Robin Bishop is a newspaper reporter for a California city paper, like Homes himself, who worked for The San Francisco Chronicle. The chief victim is a mystery writer. Like Homes, he is a former mainstream writer who has switched over to writing mystery fiction, after the commercial failure of his "serious" fiction. Also like Homes, he is writing mysteries under a pseudonym, so they will not be confused with his mainstream work - Homes' real name was Daniel Mainwaring. The novelist has the same birth date as Homes himself, 1902. The novel does a good deal of worrying about whether the writer's mystery writing will interfere with his ability to produce mainstream work.
By contrast, the novel also includes a great deal of wish fulfillment fantasy. Robin Bishop gets to be involved in exciting sleuthing, and the novelist's mystery books become huge best sellers, as well as prestigious critical favorites, lauded for their superb writing.
The book is at its best when it concentrates on the literary world. These sections show a vivid literary style. Homes has a flair for clever phraseology. By contrast, the sections dealing with the suspects are dull. Only the non-narrative passages dealing with literary history really come alive.
The technique of the novel is an eclectic mix. Like Homes' later film Out of the Past (1947), there is a long look backward at the earlier lives of the characters, and their complex interactions with each other, romantic, financial and criminous. The novelist's new identity as a mystery writer recalls Jeff Bailey's new identity when hiding out from gangsters in Out of the Past. Both men retreat to the California mountains, at one point.
Homes uses a modified version of the "pulp style of plotting". This plotting technique, especially associated with Black Mask writers, involves many different characters all acting independently of each other, commiting a series of intricately interlocking actions. The reader is hard pressed to understand who is doing what; untangling the series of events is a chief mystery of the plot. Homes combines this "pulp style of plotting" with a 1930's Golden Age tone, and a search for a principal killer.
The Man Who Didn't Exist refers to Erle Stanley Gardner, one of the principal exponents of the "pulp style", as well as Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie.
No Hands on the Clock
Homes' earlier The Man Who Didn't Exist is basically an attempt at a Van Dine school, Golden Age novel. His No Hands on the Clock (1939) is very different. It is a hard-boiled novel.
No Hands on the Clock shows Homes' verbal skill. Here that skill is applied to clever comic dialogue, reminiscent of 1930's screwball comedy movies. It also applies to descriptions of nature and the city of Reno. This makes the book succeed as a piece of storytelling.
The typical joke is Homes showing an unexpected side of some character. A detective will suddenly indulge in kid's games, or a robber will get side tracked with something nutty. This is funny. But it also greatly adds to characterization. Those stick figures of a million novels, detectives and crooks, suddenly get the personalities of real people. Related to this are the thoughts that pop into Campbell's mind. They tend to be odd analogies to situations in front of him. They too tend to be comic, funny, unexpected, and additions to characterizing the scene in nice ways.
The pure descriptive passages in Homes somewhat resemble Dashiell Hammett. They often describe taut criminous situations. However, Homes was a struggling mainstream novelist when he started writing mysteries. He has no pulp background.