Gavin Lyall, who wrote finely crafted action novels drawing on his experience as a Royal Air Force pilot before turning to spy thrillers, has died. He was 70.
Lyall, who published about 15 books during a 40-year writing career, died Saturday at his London home of cancer.
Lyall's first book, "The Wrong Side of the Sky," was an aviation thriller published in 1961. It enjoyed considerable success in Britain and the United States and set the pattern for his early novels.
Born and schooled in Birmingham, England, he served as an RAF pilot before studying English at Cambridge University. After college, he worked as a journalist, at first with the Picture Post and then the British Broadcasting Corp., before becoming the Sunday Times' aviation correspondent in 1959.
"The Wrong Side of the Sky" was an immediate success. P.G. Wodehouse called it "terrific -- when better novels of suspense are written, lead me to them."
Lyall's heroes were tough, capable, often hard-drinking former RAF men who told their stories in clipped, sardonic first-person narratives as their planes carried cargoes around the world.
"Midnight Plus One," published in 1965, won the Silver Dagger award for thrillers. Through the 1970s, Lyall suffered from writer's block and ill health.
His last aviation novel, "Judas Country," was published in 1975.
In 1980, he was back with "The Secret Servant," which introduced Maj. Harry Maxim of the Special Air Service, or SAS. Several more novels featuring Maxim followed. The BBC filmed "The Secret Servant" with Charles Dance as Maxim.
"Spy's Honor," which followed some years later, was the first in a series of novels set in British intelligence services just before World War I.
Lyall is survived by his wife, Katharine Whitehorn, and two sons.