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Reginald Hill & Ruth Rendell Clips on ABC Radio

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  • Nicholas Fuller
    ABC Classic FM has two recent interviews with detective writers (Reginald Hill and Ruth Rendell) which can be listened to on their web-site:
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 3, 2004
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      ABC Classic FM has two recent interviews with detective writers (Reginald Hill and Ruth Rendell) which can be listened to on their web-site: http://www.abc.net.au/classic/throsby/. The interviewer is the always excellent Margaret Throsby.


      b_ergang <bergang@...> wrote:
      Xavier wrote:

      *You are right: Chandler is not our mysterious Freeman-basher - but
      you still can post the letters if it's no trouble to you. For once
      Raymond and I agree on something, it's worth celebrating it!*

      The first letter below is from RAYMOND CHANDLER SPEAKING, the other
      two from SELECTED LETTERS OF RAYMOND CHANDLER. There are differences
      in the spelling of a couple of names from one letter to the next.
      I'm reproducing the letters as published, right down to the

      From a letter to his British publisher Hamish Hamilton dated Dec.
      13, 1949:

      "...This man Austin Freeman is a wonderful performer. He has no
      equal in his genre and he is also a much better writer than you
      might think, if you were superficially inclined, because in spite of
      the immense leisure of his writing he accomplishes an even suspense
      which is quite unexpected. The apparatus of his writing makes for
      dullness, but he is not dull. There is even a gaslight charm about
      his Victorian love affairs, and those wonderful walks across London
      which the long-legged Dr. Thorndyke takes like a stroll around a
      garden, accompanied by his cheerful and brainless Watson, Dr.
      Jervis, whom no man in his senses would hire for any legal or medico-
      legal operation more exacting than counting the toes of a corpse.
      "Freeman has so many distinctions as a technician that one is
      apt to forget that within his literary tradition he is a damn good
      writer. He invented the inverted detective story. He proved the
      possibility of forging fingerprints and of detecting the forgeries
      long before the police thought of such a thing. His knowledge is
      vast and very real. The great scene would have been a courtroom
      battle between Thorndyke and Spilsbury, and for my money Thorndyke
      would have won hands down."

      In a letter dated Sept. 29, 1950 to a James Keddie,identified as
      a "Sherlock Holmes enthusiast and book collector; member of
      the 'Baker Street Irregulars'", Chandler wrote:

      "Yes, I know the books of Austin Freeman and Freeman Wills Crofts
      very well. I think my favorite Freemans are MR. POTTERMACK'S
      OVERSIGHT and THE STONEWARE MONKEY. Freemans are very hard to get
      hold of. I haven't been able to get THE STONEWARE MONKEY at all
      since I first read it. PONTIFEX, SON AND THORNDIKE is also very
      good. The hansom cab era appeals to me very much. And I always enjoy
      the long walks across London which Thorndike and Jervis seem to take
      as a matter of course. Their legs never become tired apparently. As
      a matter of fact, Freeman is rather a poor writer compared with
      Conan Doyle. If you read him out loud he makes you laugh, he's so
      stilted. And Thorndike at times is a bit of a bore, especially when
      explaining to Jervis that now he has all the facts and that if he
      sits down and studies them, he should come up with a few ideas. Can
      it be possible that the acute Dr. Thorndike would ever think Jervis
      would ever come up with an idea? Dr. Watson, though no mental giant,
      was on occasion capable of a moderately sensible remark. But not Dr.
      Jervis. His mind is a complete blank. Some of the most delicious
      moments in Freeman to me are when Thorndike politely inquires of
      Jervis whether he will be free from engagements on the following
      date to accompany him on some expedition. Jervis is always free of
      course. He will always be free. One can hardly imagine anybody
      employing him to do anything more exacting than copying out a
      laundry list. Whether or not Freeman writes really good detective
      stories is quite another matter. In cases where, as in the example
      of THE MYSTERY OF 31 NEW INN, there is no analysis of scientific
      evidence, in spots they are extremely transparent. And where the
      solution of a mystery turns on the correct analysis of scientific
      evidence, there arises a question of honesty. I realize that this is
      a big problem in detective stories--just what honesty is. But if you
      accept the basic premise, as I do, that in a novel of detection the
      reader should have been able to solve the problem, if he had paid
      proper attention to all the clues as they were presented and drawn
      the right deductions from them, then I say that he had no such
      opportunity if, to evaluate said clues, he is required to have an
      expert knowledge of archaeology, physics, chemistry, microscopy,
      pathology, metallurgy, and various other sciences. If, in order to
      know where a man was drowned, I have to identify the fish scales
      found in his lungs, then I, as a reader, cannot be expected to tell
      you where he was drowned. I should not be expected to. And if to
      solve the mystery I must be able to solve this point, then so far as
      I am concerned the clue is suppressed just as effectively as though
      it had never been given. In spite of all this, I have a very high
      regard for Freeman. His writing is stilted, but it is never dull in
      the sense that Crofts's writing is dull. That is to say, it is never
      flat. It is merely old-fashioned. His problems are always
      interesting in themselves, and the expositions at the end are
      masterpieces of lucid analysis. Thorndike is a far more accurate
      thinker than Sherlock Holmes. He is the only expert in fiction who
      would have been a match, and I think rather more than a match, for
      the real experts such as Sir Bernard Spillsbury."

      A letter to Frederic Dannay dated July 10, 1951:

      "No, I would not care to nominate the ten best living detective
      story writers. I don't mind sticking my neck out, but the point is,
      one has to agree on a few fundamentals before one starts picking
      lists of ten bests. For instance, does the category include writers
      of suspense stories in which there is little mystery, or none at
      all? If it does not, you eliminate some of the best performers, such
      as Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, certainly one of my favorites. And if
      it does, why call them detective stories? Charlotte Armstrong's
      MISCHIEF contains no puzzle element whatever. On the other hand,
      some puzzle merchants, the people who have timetables and ground
      plans and pay the most meticulous attention to details, can't write
      a lick. There is a saying that a good plot will make a good
      detective story, but I personally question whether you can have a
      good plot if you can't create any believable characters or
      situations. My list, if I made it, would probably leave out some of
      those names which will inevitably appear on your ten best list. I
      just don't think they're any good, because by my standards they
      can't write. And it may also happen that single books, such as THE
      31ST OF FEBRUARY by Julian Symons, or WALK THE DARK STREETS by
      William Krasner, or the aforesaid MISCHIEF, or MR. BOWLING BUYS A
      NEWSPAPER by Donald Henderson, will immediately put the writer above
      and beyond a whole host of other writers who have written twenty or
      thirty books and are extremely well known and successful, and from a
      literary point of view entirely negligible. I don't particularly
      care for the hard-boiled babies, because most of them are traveling
      on borrowed gas, and I don't think you have any right to do that
      unless you can travel a little farther than the man from whom you
      borrowed the gas. I don't care about the had-I-but-known girls,
      because I don't care whether dear little Lucille gets her neck
      stretched or not. But that's not quite honest. If I had a choice,
      I'd prefer that she did get it stretched. I don't care for the
      weekend chichi either here or in England. I don't seem to care who
      conked Sir Mortimer with the poker, nor why, nor who set the
      grandfather's clock twenty minutes slow. How did Frank Fustian come
      to be eating fly agaric in the locked room? I couldn't care less. It
      isn't that I don't like puzzles, because I like, for example, Austin
      Freeman. I like him very much. There is probably not one of his
      books that I haven't read at least twice, yet he bores a lot of
      people stiff. I even like his Victorian love scenes. And I have
      liked some very pedestrian stories, because they were unpretentious
      and because their mysteries were rooted in hard facts and not in
      false motivations cooked up for the purpose of mystifying a reader.
      I suppose the attraction of the pedestrian books is their
      documentary quality and this, if at all authentic, is pretty rare,
      and any attempt to dish it up with chichi and glamour turns my
      stomach immediately. I think you are up against a difficult problem,
      because I think we may take it as granted that a mystery fan would
      rather read a bad mystery than none at all. You are bound to give
      some weight to volume of production, and strictly speaking volume of
      production means absolutely nothing. A writer discloses himself on a
      single page, sometimes in a single paragraph. An un-writer may fill
      a whole shelf, he may achieve fame of a sort and fortune of a sort,
      he may occasionally concoct a plot which will make him seem to be a
      little better than he really is, but in the end he fades away and is
      nothing. All good writers have a touch of magic. And unless we are
      to agree with Edmund Wilson that detective fiction is on the sub-
      literary level, and I personally do not agree with this, we demand
      that touch of magic; at least I do, although I am well aware that
      the public does not."

      There you have it. I'm sure some of Chandler's comments (and
      inconsistencies therein) will prove to be good fodder for additional
      discussions, whether or not they concern Freeman.


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      'There is no past tense in the conjugation of genius, especially when it has left us whatever of itself can be conveyed by the printed page.'--Gladys Mitchell, Death and the Maiden (1947).

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