John Harris was born in 1916. He was a sailor, airman, a journalist, travel courier, cartoonist and a history teacher. During the Second World War he served with the air force and the navy.

After turning to full-time writing, Harris wrote adventure stories and created a sequence of crime novels around the quirky fictional character Chief Inspector Pel. His 1953 novel, the best-selling The Sea Shall Not Have Them, was the basis for a feature film of the same name in 1954. He also wrote under the pen names of Mark Hebden and Max Hennessy. A master of war and crime fiction, his enduring fictions are versatile and entertaining.

His daughter Juliet Harris published more Inspector Pel books under the name of Juliet Hebden.