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Julian Symons

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  • Richard.A.Liedholm@HealthPartners.com
    Hello, everyone! It s a beautiful day here in Minnesota, and lo and behold a brand new website! Thank you Jon, for setting it up and all the other stuff that
    Message 1 of 13 , Jun 29, 2001
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      Hello, everyone! It's a beautiful day here in Minnesota, and lo and behold
      a brand new website! Thank you Jon, for setting it up and all the other
      stuff that you do!

      Just a quick comment about Julian Symons. I don't feel quite so negative
      about his criticism, only because I am of the belief that everyone is
      entitled to their opinion. Just think if he were alive today and
      participating on this website... Whoa, Nellie, the fur would be flying!

      Nick- As much as I like Crofts, I would certainly not place him above Rhode
      or Freeman. I need to go back and see what Symons said about our favorite
      authors, it's been a long while since I've read any of his comments.

      My personal reaction to Symons is primarily focused on his own fiction. Of
      the four books that I've read (and I suppose I need to read more...), I
      found them to be droll, unexciting and over-long. Oh sure, he has
      interesting moments but the books as a whole do not hold my attention. I
      was especially disappointed with THE 31ST OF FEBRUARY. I read nothing but
      praise for this book and it didn't even come close to living up to its
      reputation. If there is anyone that has a favorite Symons that they would
      care to recommend, please response. That's why we're all reading, after
      all.

      Richard
    • stoke_moran@yahoo.com
      ... and behold a brand new website! Thank you Jon, for setting it up and all the other stuff that you do! Motion seconded. ... negative about his
      Message 2 of 13 , Jul 1, 2001
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        --- In GAdetection@y..., Richard.A.Liedholm@H... wrote:
        > Hello, everyone! It's a beautiful day here in Minnesota, and lo
        and behold > a brand new website! Thank you Jon, for setting it up
        and all the other > stuff that you do!

        Motion seconded.

        > Just a quick comment about Julian Symons. I don't feel quite so
        negative > about his criticism, only because I am of the belief that
        everyone is > entitled to their opinion. Just think if he were alive
        today and > participating on this website... Whoa, Nellie, the fur
        would be flying!
        >
        > Nick- As much as I like Crofts, I would certainly not place him
        above Rhode > or Freeman. I need to go back and see what Symons said
        about our favorite > authors, it's been a long while since I've read
        any of his comments.

        I don't like Crofts. I've tried to read his books several times, but
        can't get into them. They're examples of the plodding school at its
        worst. John Rhode is often very entertaining, sometimes quite funny,
        and always has a brilliant plot; Freeman is charming, suspenseful,
        and fascinating.

        > My personal reaction to Symons is primarily focused on his own
        fiction. Of > the four books that I've read (and I suppose I need to
        read more...), I > found them to be droll, unexciting and over-long.
        Oh sure, he has > interesting moments but the books as a whole do not
        hold my attention. I > was especially disappointed with THE 31ST OF
        FEBRUARY. I read nothing but > praise for this book and it didn't
        even come close to living up to its > reputation. If there is anyone
        that has a favorite Symons that they would > care to recommend,
        please response. That's why we're all reading, after > all.

        I read A MAN CALLED JONES. The plot was clever, but was spoiled by
        too much sex and psychology.

        Regards,

        Nick Fuller
      • Douglas Greene
        I agree strongly with Wyatt that Julian Symons should not be our whipping boy. His early detective novels are very GAD, as are his Francis Quarles short
        Message 3 of 13 , Jul 19, 2004
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          I agree strongly with Wyatt that Julian Symons should not be our whipping
          boy. His early detective novels are very GAD, as are his Francis Quarles
          short stories (pure puzzle tales in 2500 words). That's why he was
          admitted to the Detection Club at a time when its members had to write
          pure, fairplay, classical stories, and he eventually became President of
          the Club. I am less fond of his crime stories, but they are elegantly
          written, and my tastes are simply not Julian's.

          His critical work, BLOODY MURDER, is I think fundamentally in error that
          the detective story led to the crime novel -- chronologically wrong -- but
          it is a book of history, analysis and critical judgment, and one can
          disagree with it without being bitter about Julian.

          I should add that I corresponded with Julian about John Dickson Carr, and
          met him at the London Bouchercon. A man of great wit and grace.

          PS. I know, Xavier, that John Lennon's boy Julian was nicknamed "Jude,"
          but it would be better not to call Julian Symons "Jude" -- it sounds like a
          play on his Jewishness (at least in English).

          Doug

          Douglas G. Greene
          Professor of History
          Old Dominion University
          Norfolk, VA 23529-0091
          Phone 757 683-3949
        • Christian Henriksson
          ... It s mountain-out-of-a-molehill time here, but Julian Lennon was never nicknamed Jude. The song was originally called Hey Jules , and the name was later
          Message 4 of 13 , Jul 19, 2004
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            Lo and behold, on 19 Jul 2004 at 10:18, Douglas Greene sayeth thus:

            > PS. I know, Xavier, that John Lennon's boy Julian was nicknamed
            > "Jude," but it would be better not to call Julian Symons "Jude" -- it
            > sounds like a play on his Jewishness (at least in English).

            It's mountain-out-of-a-molehill time here, but Julian Lennon was never nicknamed
            Jude. The song was originally called "Hey Jules", and the name was later
            changed to Jude so it wouldn't be so obvious anymore.

            Christian Henriksson
            (christianhenriksson@...)
            --
            The human race, to which so many of my
            readers belong.
            - G. K. Chesterton
          • Xavier Lechard
            ... that ... wrong -- but ... Symons was a brilliant writer as well as a good critic of the work he liked. On the other hand, he was much too imbeded with
            Message 5 of 13 , Jul 19, 2004
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              --- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, Douglas Greene <dgreene@o...>
              wrote:
              > His critical work, BLOODY MURDER, is I think fundamentally in error
              that
              > the detective story led to the crime novel -- chronologically
              wrong -- but
              > it is a book of history, analysis and critical judgment, and one can
              > disagree with it without being bitter about Julian.

              Symons was a brilliant writer as well as a good critic of the work he
              liked. On the other hand, he was much too imbeded with academic
              standards for my taste, and that's what makes BLOODY MURDER so
              infuriating, while informative and perceptive at times.


              > PS. I know, Xavier, that John Lennon's boy Julian was
              nicknamed "Jude,"
              > but it would be better not to call Julian Symons "Jude" -- it
              sounds like a
              > play on his Jewishness (at least in English).

              O.K. I'll rack my brain to find him another nickname. ;-)

              Friendly,
              Xavier
            • Wyatt James
              OK, here we go again. The man we love to hate. I had just finished Val McDermid s The Mermaids Sing, which left a very bad impression, so I picked up Mortal
              Message 6 of 13 , Aug 18 7:33 PM
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                OK, here we go again. The man we love to hate.

                I had just finished Val McDermid's "The Mermaids Sing," which left a
                very bad impression, so I picked up "Mortal Consequences" (I don't
                have the expanded "Bloody Murder") to check out what Symons would
                probably think of this book and similar ones like "Silence of the
                Lambs." To give him credit, I don't think he'd have liked either,
                especially since he never approved of Mickey Spillane type sadism.

                I only browsed, since reading a whole chapter from end to end in this
                book makes my blood boil, as when he said about R. Austin Freeman: "We
                confront for the first time the crime writer who produced work of no
                other kind, and whose talents as a writer were negligible. Reading a
                Freeman story is very much like chewing dry straw." This sort of catty
                wit typifies many famous theatrical reviewers, who are more interested
                in offending people with a memorable put-down than saying anything
                about the production.

                Whatever Symons's virtues -- and he wrote some very good mysteries,
                er, crime novels, as he'd prefer to say -- he made the common mistake
                of critics of thinking his opinions are definitive, and worse, hinting
                to the reader just through the presentation that 'if you disagree with
                me you are a cretin'. He is both informative and well-studied about
                crime fiction, so it his condescention that rankles the most, not his
                opinions. His list of the differences between Detective Stories and
                Crime Novels is very shrewd and on the mark. He claims not to be
                saying one is superior to the other, although he is obviously
                judgemental towards the latter:

                "The Detective Story has turned into the Crime Novel. Such a statement
                needs not so much justification as definition. A comparison of the
                main features in the two kinds of book may help in showing that they
                are really not the same article with a different label." [Then follows
                the list, which is right on in most of its points, although when it
                comes to examples he has to admit that there are cross-overs, where
                some detective stories have psychology and characterization and some
                crime novels have puzzles and clues.]

                What he does say basically, however, is that neither detective fiction
                nor crime stories fall into the mainstream category of NOVELS. Here he
                is into our camp in saying that anything in whatever genre, even if
                written with skill, does not make it intrinsically inferior to
                'serious fiction' (which in just as many cases as anything else can be
                90% awful) just because of its genre. I also appreciate the fact that
                he admits that Victor Gollancz told him 'please, no more Patricia
                Highsmiths' when he recommended books to read on vacation -- i.e., no
                accounting for tastes, but they are all equally valid. Symons pushed
                Highsmith as one of the all-time great crime novelists, superior in
                every way to traditional detection. I agree with Gollancz and can
                barely stand reading this WAY-OVERRATED author.
              • Wyatt James
                PS. Highsmith. Strangers on a Train only worked as a film because Hitchcock did such a marvellous job of turning it into a suspense story and had that
                Message 7 of 13 , Aug 18 7:41 PM
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                  PS.

                  Highsmith. "Strangers on a Train" only worked as a film because
                  Hitchcock did such a marvellous job of turning it into a suspense
                  story and had that bang-up ending at the carnival. (By the way,
                  Raymond Chandler worked on the film script.) The book itself is almost
                  unreadable, but the movie is an all-time classic.

                  A rare case of the movie being far better than the book. So there, Julian!

                  --- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, "Wyatt James" <grobius@s...> wrote:
                  > OK, here we go again. The man we love to hate.
                  >
                  > I had just finished Val McDermid's "The Mermaids Sing," which left a
                  > very bad impression, so I picked up "Mortal Consequences" (I don't
                  > have the expanded "Bloody Murder") to check out what Symons would
                  > probably think of this book and similar ones like "Silence of the
                  > Lambs." To give him credit, I don't think he'd have liked either,
                  > especially since he never approved of Mickey Spillane type sadism.
                  >
                  > I only browsed, since reading a whole chapter from end to end in this
                  > book makes my blood boil, as when he said about R. Austin Freeman: "We
                  > confront for the first time the crime writer who produced work of no
                  > other kind, and whose talents as a writer were negligible. Reading a
                  > Freeman story is very much like chewing dry straw." This sort of catty
                  > wit typifies many famous theatrical reviewers, who are more interested
                  > in offending people with a memorable put-down than saying anything
                  > about the production.
                  >
                  > Whatever Symons's virtues -- and he wrote some very good mysteries,
                  > er, crime novels, as he'd prefer to say -- he made the common mistake
                  > of critics of thinking his opinions are definitive, and worse, hinting
                  > to the reader just through the presentation that 'if you disagree with
                  > me you are a cretin'. He is both informative and well-studied about
                  > crime fiction, so it his condescention that rankles the most, not his
                  > opinions. His list of the differences between Detective Stories and
                  > Crime Novels is very shrewd and on the mark. He claims not to be
                  > saying one is superior to the other, although he is obviously
                  > judgemental towards the latter:
                  >
                  > "The Detective Story has turned into the Crime Novel. Such a statement
                  > needs not so much justification as definition. A comparison of the
                  > main features in the two kinds of book may help in showing that they
                  > are really not the same article with a different label." [Then follows
                  > the list, which is right on in most of its points, although when it
                  > comes to examples he has to admit that there are cross-overs, where
                  > some detective stories have psychology and characterization and some
                  > crime novels have puzzles and clues.]
                  >
                  > What he does say basically, however, is that neither detective fiction
                  > nor crime stories fall into the mainstream category of NOVELS. Here he
                  > is into our camp in saying that anything in whatever genre, even if
                  > written with skill, does not make it intrinsically inferior to
                  > 'serious fiction' (which in just as many cases as anything else can be
                  > 90% awful) just because of its genre. I also appreciate the fact that
                  > he admits that Victor Gollancz told him 'please, no more Patricia
                  > Highsmiths' when he recommended books to read on vacation -- i.e., no
                  > accounting for tastes, but they are all equally valid. Symons pushed
                  > Highsmith as one of the all-time great crime novelists, superior in
                  > every way to traditional detection. I agree with Gollancz and can
                  > barely stand reading this WAY-OVERRATED author.
                • b_ergang
                  ... I may have read a Highsmith short story once, but never any of the novels. Strangers On a Train was a gem of a movie, despite Chandler s not getting
                  Message 8 of 13 , Aug 18 8:58 PM
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                    --- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, "Wyatt James" <grobius@s...>
                    wrote:
                    > Highsmith. "Strangers on a Train" only worked as a film because
                    > Hitchcock did such a marvellous job of turning it into a suspense
                    > story and had that bang-up ending at the carnival. (By the way,
                    > Raymond Chandler worked on the film script.) The book itself is
                    > almost unreadable, but the movie is an all-time classic.

                    I may have read a Highsmith short story once, but never any of the
                    novels. "Strangers On a Train" was a gem of a movie, despite
                    Chandler's not getting along with Hitchcock nor agreeing with his
                    approach. The movie script was co-written by someone named Czenzi
                    Ormonde, who may have--I don't remember and don't feel like looking
                    it up--actually written more of the final version than Chandler.

                    I know there was an earlier version of "The Talented Mr. Ripley,"
                    but I've only seen the recent one starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, and
                    Gwyneth Paltrow--and liked it immensely.
                  • Nicholas Fuller
                    When does a detective story become a Crime Novel ? Most of Christie s 1940s works--Five Little Pigs, The Hollow, Taken at the Flood--have detailed
                    Message 9 of 13 , Aug 19 12:17 AM
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                      When does a detective story become a "Crime Novel"? Most of Christie's 1940s works--Five Little Pigs, The Hollow, Taken at the Flood--have detailed characterisation and as much emphasis on the "emotional drama" as on the detection side of things, but are they Crime Novels? What would you call Carr's The Seat of the Scornful, The Devil in Velvet and She Died a Lady? What about Nicholas Blake? H.C. Bailey? The Coles' Dickensian masterpiece, The Death of a Millionaire? Freeman's As a Thief in the Night? Innes's first four novels? Wade's No Friendly Drop and Heir Presumptive?

                      Nick

                      Wyatt James <grobius@...> wrote:
                      OK, here we go again. The man we love to hate.

                      I had just finished Val McDermid's "The Mermaids Sing," which left a
                      very bad impression, so I picked up "Mortal Consequences" (I don't
                      have the expanded "Bloody Murder") to check out what Symons would
                      probably think of this book and similar ones like "Silence of the
                      Lambs." To give him credit, I don't think he'd have liked either,
                      especially since he never approved of Mickey Spillane type sadism.

                      I only browsed, since reading a whole chapter from end to end in this
                      book makes my blood boil, as when he said about R. Austin Freeman: "We
                      confront for the first time the crime writer who produced work of no
                      other kind, and whose talents as a writer were negligible. Reading a
                      Freeman story is very much like chewing dry straw." This sort of catty
                      wit typifies many famous theatrical reviewers, who are more interested
                      in offending people with a memorable put-down than saying anything
                      about the production.

                      Whatever Symons's virtues -- and he wrote some very good mysteries,
                      er, crime novels, as he'd prefer to say -- he made the common mistake
                      of critics of thinking his opinions are definitive, and worse, hinting
                      to the reader just through the presentation that 'if you disagree with
                      me you are a cretin'. He is both informative and well-studied about
                      crime fiction, so it his condescention that rankles the most, not his
                      opinions. His list of the differences between Detective Stories and
                      Crime Novels is very shrewd and on the mark. He claims not to be
                      saying one is superior to the other, although he is obviously
                      judgemental towards the latter:

                      "The Detective Story has turned into the Crime Novel. Such a statement
                      needs not so much justification as definition. A comparison of the
                      main features in the two kinds of book may help in showing that they
                      are really not the same article with a different label." [Then follows
                      the list, which is right on in most of its points, although when it
                      comes to examples he has to admit that there are cross-overs, where
                      some detective stories have psychology and characterization and some
                      crime novels have puzzles and clues.]

                      What he does say basically, however, is that neither detective fiction
                      nor crime stories fall into the mainstream category of NOVELS. Here he
                      is into our camp in saying that anything in whatever genre, even if
                      written with skill, does not make it intrinsically inferior to
                      'serious fiction' (which in just as many cases as anything else can be
                      90% awful) just because of its genre. I also appreciate the fact that
                      he admits that Victor Gollancz told him 'please, no more Patricia
                      Highsmiths' when he recommended books to read on vacation -- i.e., no
                      accounting for tastes, but they are all equally valid. Symons pushed
                      Highsmith as one of the all-time great crime novelists, superior in
                      every way to traditional detection. I agree with Gollancz and can
                      barely stand reading this WAY-OVERRATED author.


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                    • Wyatt James
                      Detective story vs Crime novel: I hope you re just commenting on what I said Symons said! I don t agree that A comparison of the main features in the two
                      Message 10 of 13 , Aug 19 1:26 AM
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                        Detective story vs Crime novel: I hope you're just commenting on what
                        I said Symons said! I don't agree that "A comparison of the main
                        features in the two kinds of book may help in showing that they are
                        really not the same article with a different label."

                        They are all mystery novels, and just vary in their emphasis toward
                        one side or the other. My own preference is toward the 'fantasy' side,
                        so-called realism being a turn-off usually, unless it introduces
                        something of interest such as an unusual setting or a bunch of people
                        involved in some profession I know nothing about but find interesting
                        out of curiosity and my vice of wanting to know something, not deeply,
                        about everything even when it has no personal interest. Certain
                        aspects of the modern 'crime novel' don't interest me, sometimes are
                        revolting, but I'll still read them. Serial killers and lawyer books
                        are the most popular stories these days -- both of which are boring
                        sub-genres to me, although if the writing is good and the plot
                        compelling, they are still worth reading. What is a turn-off is when
                        the protagonist through his own psychological hang-ups, presented to
                        us at great length by the way, feels that he is the same as his quarry
                        -- the There But For The Grace Of God syndrome. No way, Jose! There
                        has to be a good guy, even if not the Lone Ranger.
                      • Xavier Lechard
                        ... The final edition of Bloody Murder has a chapter in the end where Symons casts a mostly gloomy eye on the way crime novel has developed into the late
                        Message 11 of 13 , Aug 19 1:45 AM
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                          --- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, "Wyatt James" <grobius@s...>
                          wrote:
                          > OK, here we go again. The man we love to hate.
                          >
                          > I had just finished Val McDermid's "The Mermaids Sing," which left a
                          > very bad impression, so I picked up "Mortal Consequences" (I don't
                          > have the expanded "Bloody Murder") to check out what Symons would
                          > probably think of this book and similar ones like "Silence of the
                          > Lambs." To give him credit, I don't think he'd have liked either,
                          > especially since he never approved of Mickey Spillane type sadism.

                          The final edition of "Bloody Murder" has a chapter in the end where
                          Symons casts a mostly gloomy eye on the way "crime novel" has
                          developed into the late eighties and early nineties. He rightly
                          prophetizes the rise of social, anti-establishment mysteries that
                          have now taken the lead of British crime fiction, though he isn't
                          very excited at that perspective. The chapter is also interesting for
                          Symons' scathing comments on sacred cows like Derek Raymond ('flesh-
                          creeping absurdities') Elmore Leonard ('he has just filled a gap')
                          James Ellroy and Andrew Vachss ('semi-literate stuff produced for a
                          similar audience') and Thomas Harris whose "Silence of the Lambs"
                          gets a full-paragraph discussion, Symons pointing the cliché-ridden
                          writing and regarding Hannibal Lecter as a 'comic character'. Even in
                          his later years, Julian wasn't afraid to rub his readers the wrong
                          way - though I tend to agree with him on this particular instance.

                          > What he does say basically, however, is that neither detective
                          fiction
                          > nor crime stories fall into the mainstream category of NOVELS. Here
                          he
                          > is into our camp in saying that anything in whatever genre, even if
                          > written with skill, does not make it intrinsically inferior to
                          > 'serious fiction' (which in just as many cases as anything else can
                          be
                          > 90% awful) just because of its genre.

                          Chapter seventeen - "The Crystal Ball revisited" - of my edition has
                          Symons rambling about the loss of a hierarchy of genres, dismissing
                          the idea that popular art can be as good as elite culture. Symons
                          makes it clear that crime fiction, much as he likes it, doesn't
                          measure to "literature" and he opposes Raymond Chandler and Dashiell
                          Hammett to George Eliot and Tolstoy, claiming the latter two were
                          great writers while the tough guys were just skilled artisans. Crime
                          fiction's particular interest to him is 'to say something of interest
                          about our time' and tell us 'about the way to live peacefully in it'.

                          >I also appreciate the fact that
                          > he admits that Victor Gollancz told him 'please, no more Patricia
                          > Highsmiths' when he recommended books to read on vacation -- i.e.,
                          no
                          > accounting for tastes, but they are all equally valid. Symons pushed
                          > Highsmith as one of the all-time great crime novelists, superior in
                          > every way to traditional detection. I agree with Gollancz and can
                          > barely stand reading this WAY-OVERRATED author.

                          Highsmith is among my pet-peeves too. Also, she was never a mystery
                          nor a crime writer, nor was meant to be, so I don't understand why
                          she keeps being cited in histories of the genre. She was basically a
                          mainstream author dealing with crime and as such became a cult figure
                          for similar writers, Ruth Rendell in particular. Still, her books are
                          boring and unpleasant.

                          Friendly,
                          Xavier
                        • nick hay
                          I really will have to try and get round to reading this properly! NickH.
                          Message 12 of 13 , Aug 19 3:54 AM
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                            I really will have to try and get round to reading this properly!

                            NickH.
                          • Nicholas Fuller
                            THE IMMATERIAL MURDER CASE           (1945) B Immaterial Murder Case was enjoyable—firmly in the line of Carr and Innes, complete with map and
                            Message 13 of 13 , Aug 18 3:58 AM
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                              THE IMMATERIAL MURDER CASE           (1945)
                              B
                              Immaterial Murder Case was enjoyable—firmly in the line of Carr and Innes, complete with map and time-table, and a nice twist in the solution (wrong acroidal solution followed by the Carrian logical solution), but the plot's very cluttered and hard to follow.  Plotting wasn't Symons's strength at all—he lacked the clarity in exposition of the humdrums!  Artistic / night-club setting reminded me of the unreadable Face on the Cutting-room Floor.  Interesting that he should later disavow this book and refuse to have it published—not enough of a “crime novel”?
                              Note also a spoof on the Great Detective (one of Symons’s many bug-bears): the outrageous Teak Woode.  Inspector Bland solves the mystery.
                               
                               
                              THE THIRTY-FIRST OF FEBRUARY           (1950)
                              A
                              One of Symons’s strongest expressions of his belief that in modern, post-WWII society, reason and order are impossible.  The protagonist, Anderson, loses faith in reason and goes mad; order is represented by Inspector Cresse, who persecutes Anderson.  The novel is at once an account of Anderson’s nervous breakdown ending in insanity, and a phantasmagoria in the manner of Chesterton’s Man Who Was Thursday, a philosophical nightmare, or the Innes of Daffodil Affair, turned to much darker ends—via Greene’s Ministry of Fear?  Full of surreal, almost abstract imagery—the detective story as seen by Magritte (pipes, Homburgs) or Kandinsky (colour).  The plot also contributes to Symons’s deconstruction of the detective story: the policeman is menace, not saviour, and builds his case on a clue which is accidental and misleading (the matchstick)—similar to A Man Called Jones.  (Also follows the Berkeley model of the wrong solution followed by
                              the right one.)
                              Themes: dissociation of identity; alienation; attempts to impose meaning and order on life; order and disorder.
                              ·        Halfway between Francis Iles (psychological, seen entirely from POV of man involved in case of sudden death, with ironic twist at end) and Michael Innes (fantastic, surreal, imaginative, dreamlike phantasmagoria).
                              ·        Office story in tradition of Blake’s Minute for Murder.
                              ·        Description of party: The Gigantic Shadow.
                               
                               
                              THE MAN WHOSE DREAMS CAME TRUE            (1968)
                              D
                              People enjoy this sort of thing?  I hated it—a downbeat, depressing story in which nasty things happen to the hero until he dies—no doubt an expression of the human condition.  I hate C20th novels in which this happens, largely because the protagonist is never given the dignity of a tragic character, and so the ending feels cheap and mean.  Theme seems to be how idealism, fantasy and imagination are destroyed by reality; hope and humour conspicuous by their absence, rather like a French film.  Plot better done in Rendell's Face of Trepass (which, unusually for her, had a moderately happy ending).  Is this really an advance on the genuine detective story?  If this is the glorious new crime novel, give me Sir John Magill's Last Journey any day!
                               
                               
                              THE PLOT AGAINST ROGER RIDER          (1973)
                              B
                              An updated version of GA Baroque, with the emphasis more on the clever and very tricky plot (murder and two disappearances in Spain, a plot and a plot building on that plot, and a well-hidden least likely culprit) than on psychology or social commentary.  Genuine detection, too, done by policemen in Spain (Galera is a good man in a bad régime) and the UK, and by a pair of young amateurs.  Crisply plotted, with a good control of details.
                              ·        Dental records: Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.
                               
                               
                              A THREE PIPE PROBLEM    (1975)
                              C
                              A Sherlock Holmes pastiche with a twist.  Instead of the battered despatch box in Coutts’ Bank disgorging its contents, the Holmesian interest comes from an actor playing Holmes who decides to use Holmes’s methods to solve a series of modern “Karate Killings”.  This isn’t very successful.  Symons didn’t believe in Great Detectives, and so, although he solves the mystery, it’s more by inept bumbling than by reason, and there’s none of the grandeur or vitality of Conan Doyle’s splendid melodramas.  Instead, 1970s London is drab and sordid, full of gangsters, actors, and motor-cars.  (Symons’s favourite theme of reality vs. fantasy—the man who wants to be Holmes and sees everything through the lens of the canon, lives in reconstruction of 221B Baker Street.)  The plot is dodgy, and would make a much better short story (used by Ellery Queen).  It’s obvious from well before the halfway point that the murderer must be ***a
                              traffic warden***, but the motive (revenge for running over dog) is very unconvincing, and the murderer’s identity arbitrary.
                               
                               
                              THE BLACKHEATH POISONINGS (1978)
                              A
                              The Symons I’ve enjoyed most so far.  It’s not really a detective story, more a mystery in the line of Wilkie Collins, although several of the characters recall Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga (Isabel a femme fatale like Irene).  The murders emerge as part of the plot, rather than being investigated in great detail; instead, there are a lot of character vignettes and scenes, making it more of a novel with detective interest than a detective story per se.  The ending is pretty easy to anticipate—I worked out that it was ***George*** two-thirds of the way through (the clue of the corset is pretty much the only clue in the book, and its meaning is obvious; also ***his reluctance to marry), and knew that Paul would probably kill him well before the deed was done***.
                              The Victorian period detail is well done (nice touches in the early Sherlock Holmes stories in The Strand and a first run of Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan), and the Victorian hypocrisy and morality are effective.
                              ·        ***Paul is at once detective and murderer.  His investigations do harm—lead to Irene’s arrest; to secure her release, poisons the murderer (destructive rôle of detective—executioner, inasmuch as Great Detectives bring guilty parties to the gallows?).***
                               
                               
                              DEATH’S DARKEST FACE  (1990)
                              A
                              Detection / investigation into past and gradual revelation excellent.  Reconstruction of 1930s and 1960s and characterisation great.
                              Unquestionably the best Symons I’ve read so far.  It succeeds both as a crime novel and as a detective story.  The approach is similar to Dickinson’s Hindsight: the hero in the present (1960s) writes a book about his investigations into a murder that happened in his adolescence (1930s).  Geoffrey Elder’s ‘quest dominated by the search for his father … [and] to recreate differently the for ever unrealisable past’ is tied in extremely adroitly with the criminal investigation—the answer to one is the answer to the other.  The plotting is elaborate and well clued, and the ending is not only surprising, but also the logical and inevitable result of the characters involved.  A triumph.
                              Note that Symons himself appears as a character in the novel—Po-Mo?
                              Crisp and focused in the best manner of the English arty school—Blake, early Innes.
                              ·        Double narrative: revisiting past: Hill’s Wood Beyond and Stranger House; Rendell’s Chimney-Sweeper’s Boy.  A modern sub-genre, rather than a GA one?  Has roots in such books as Mitchell’s When Last I Died, Christie’s Five Little Pigs, Queen’s Murderer is a Fox, and works of Mary Fitt.
                              ·        Hallmarks of Symons’s fiction: absurdism (destruction of reason after WWII); pastiche (historical or detective); naturalism (mundanity, sex, psychology, criminal underworld, working class) contrasted with protagonist’s fantasies; past / present; protagonist discovering himself; ineffectual protagonists who are miserable failures (Symons thought he was too fond of “weedy” characters); multiple solutions.
                               
                               
                              SOMETHING LIKE A LOVE AFFAIR          (1992)
                              D
                              The best thing about Symons is that his books are shot, and can be read very quickly.  On the whole, they’re not very good.  The plots are slight or unconvincing, the tone cold and mean-spirited, and they lack humour, optimism or belief in reason and order.
                              This is a very late one, and like a minor Rendell.  A housewife has an affair with a driving instructor, discovers that her husband is a homosexual, plots to kill him and marry her lover, goes mad, ***discovers that her lover was stringing her along and has defrauded her, and kills him instead***.  Drab and uninspired, but with lots of frank and off-putting sexual detail, so it must be good.  Meh.
                              ·        Symons’s favourite theme of fantasy vs. reality: Judith’s day-dreams, writing love letters to herself, split personality, taking refuge in madness.


                              "A citizen of the universe, and a gentleman to boot."


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