Friday, September 27, 2013

Julian Symons Reviews Robert Barnard's A TALENT TO DECEIVE

By Robert Barnard.
Dodd, Mead.
1980. 213 pages. $10.00
The review first appeared in INQUIRY (November 24, 1980), archived hereExcerpts:
Robert Barnard’s “appreciation” is a crisply written survey of the works, particularly good in its detailed examination of what he calls three prize specimens: Murder for Christmas, Murder in Retrospect, and Murder is Announced. These are not my own favorites, but Barnard shows very persuasively the skill with which the stories are plotted and the clues placed. There is a useful list of the books, with brief and by no means starry-eyed comments.
A Christie novice wanting to know which books to read and which to avoid will find this book an indispensable guide.
I think that the Christie readership has always been predominantly female, by about two to one, and middle class by about the same ratio. Few feminists or radicals are likely to read her.
British devotees, on the other hand, know that Christie country has never existed in their lifetimes; that her people and places are a fairy tale of Edwardian England . . . .
Another part of the answer to the question about Christie’s survival is that there is no need for specialized knowledge to read the books.
Christie clues are always verbal or visual tricks, and it is these that must be spotted. If you don’t spot them—well, most readers are happy to be carried along on the tide of smooth commonplace dialogue that has nothing in it to disturb the emotions or enliven the intellect.
If it is true, as Robert Graves said, that her English was schoolgirlish, her situations artificial, and her detail often faulty, such adverse comments do not touch her prime virtue, which is that of plot.
Her characterization hardly existed, her mind was utterly commonplace; as a story-teller she could not be mentioned in the same breath with Conan Doyle or Wilkie Collins and was inferior to a dozen of her contemporaries. Yet as a maker of puzzles she was superior to them all . . . .
The UNZ periodicals index lists 116 items for Julian Symons, most of which are inaccessible.

Category: Detective fiction

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