Sunday, 17 January 2010

Robert Barnard


I mentioned recently that 1936 was the year in which three of Britain’s finest crime writers were born: Peter Lovesey, Reginald Hill, and Robert Barnard. They are three writers whom I admired long before I had the pleasure of getting to know them personally. I still can’t quite believe that I’ve joined them in the Detection Club.

I’ve not had much to say on this blog about Bob Barnard, so it’s time to remedy the omission. He’s a witty writer, who crafts neat and sometimes highly ingenious plots. His gifts are often shown to advantage in the short story, a form at which he excels, and I’ve been lucky enough to include several of them in anthologies that I’ve edited.

Bob Barnard is also a keen student of the genre, and his study of the work of Agatha Christie, A Talent to Deceive, is widely acknowledged as one of the best books ever written about the Queen of Crime. His enthusiastic, yet clear-eyed assessment of her work, is highly readable, and his analysis of her main plot devices is especially interesting.

Yet it is for his novels that he is best known, and quite right too. He has employed recurrent detectives – Perry Trethowan and Charlie Peace in particular – but the main focus on his books is on the skewering of pretension, coupled with neat mystification. Death in Purple Prose pokes fun at romantic novels, while Political Suicide offers a highly entertaining, if now rather dated, glance at political shenanigans.

My favourite Barnard is probably A Scandal in Belgravia. The title suggests a Sherlock Holmes connection, but this proves to be a red herring. The focus is, again, on politics (Bob used to work for the Fabian Society), and there is a great final twist. A fun book from a writer whose own talent to deceive is of a high order.

13 comments:

Deb said...

He's one of my absolute favorite writers--I read everything I can by him as soon as the library gets them...and he isn't slowing down at all--I've read three relatively new ones from him in the past 18 months, including "The Killings on Jubilee Terrace" about murders on the set of a soap opera. The show was obviously patterned on "Coronation Street," which made me smile because Ena Sharples and Rosie Tanner were fixtures of my long-ago youth.

Ann Elle Altman said...

I'M Glad you're doing this series because I have not heard of these books and yet, I think it's vital to read authors who provide such history to the mystery writing genre. I will look for his books.

ann

Martin Edwards said...

Deb, we must be of similar vintage, as I too well remember Ena. And Elsie Tanner. And even Minnie Caldwell!

Martin Edwards said...

Ann, he is a good entertainer, who writes very varied stories.

Deb said...

Yes, I am a "woman of a certain age." And my memory must be going because I thought her name was Rosie Tanner, not Elsie--but now I hear it, Elsie sounds right. I also remember Len Fairclough--although I don't remember if that was the actor's name or the part he played.

A la recherche du temps perdu indeed!

Terra said...

I am glad I found your blog, from a comment you left on a post about Robert Parker, and now I am intrigued by Robert Barnard and will find the book by him that you most recommend.
My husband and I read lots of detective fiction and we will look for your novels too.
We love finding new series. I am a writer also, of nonfiction.

Martin Edwards said...

Nice to hear from you, Terra. You might also like the books of Peter Lovesey, a very entertaining writer. And of course I hope that if you read some of mine, you find them enjoyable too.

Cudo said...

I agree with you, "A Scandal in Belgravia" is a very entertaining, well-plotted crime novel.
Your blog is wonderful: whenever I´m looking for an author I haven´t read before, I check you out.
Thank you very much for your efforts.

Yours,
Cudo

PS: Please excuse my awkward English. I´m not a native speaker.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks very much, Cudo. And your English seems pretty good to me!

Gill said...

I was enjoying your book, Dying Flames, until you described afternoon tea at the Ritz for Graham and Christa. Having been to the Ritz for afternoon tea several times, I know that you need to book at least 3 month in advance, and Graham clearly didn't. Also you order the type of afternoon tea you want i.e. With/without champagne/chocolate/birthday etc in advance and not at the table. You should have done more research. I probably won't read one of your books again.

Alan Birt said...

Gill - your comment is about very minor points of error. Whilst I agree an author ought to strive for full accuracy when possible, no one is perfect and minor slips are bound to occur. Have you never made a mistake in your life ?

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Alan. I agree, and if like me you are a Barnard fan, I'll be reviewing his latest book on this blog shortly.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Alan. I agree, and if like me you are a Barnard fan, I'll be reviewing his latest book on this blog shortly.