His writing on crime fiction showed the same leanings - he was very iffy about crime pulp, even though it has a different aim to the work he loved, and this clouded his judgement of it on its own merits.
The problem is that the basic premise---that all stories that involve crimes are "crime fiction" and can be usefully studied together---is ridiculous, making unlikely bedfellows of Dostoyevsky, John Dickson Carr, and Patricia Highsmith, to mention just a few examples.
Exactly. I wrote something about that on here years back. Without wanting to repeat myself, the basic argument was that crime fiction per se is a broad church as it enables a writer to study character and psychology under pressure and circumstances that go beyond the everyday. But those trappings can also be applied to the thriller, which is about building events - natural or man-made - to a series of exciting peaks throughout a narrative. It can also be a vehicle for a puzzle. In short, many things to many people, and the critical notion that the same set of principles can be applied to ALL of these variants is absurd. I suppose it's like any genre fiction - the trappings can be used to enhance a variety of narrative intents, but because they're genre trappings the critic applies a blanket set of standards. Which is what Symons did (and he wasn't the only one*), and which I find annoying as I always maintain that any piece of work can only be judged by its own criteria, its own intentions. Anything else is spurious.
Which is, I realise, a long winded version of what you said...
(* Even though I like John Creasey, and find Dorothy Sayers frustrating for the reasons mentioned earlier, it still makes me chuckle when I recall her review of an early Creasey book in which she causally dismisses him as using approximately the right words in his prose. Ow.)
Hi Pulphack and thanks for the info on Julian Symons. His name was a new one on me. I quite like the odd Victorian and Edwardian detective yarn and the volume sounds like it could be a good read--Jack Adrian always seems to turn up some interesting tales that have lain unjustly forgotten for many decades.
Post by Michael Connolly on Jun 8, 2015 11:12:51 GMT
Regarding Julian Symons, has anyone else read his excellent history of crime fiction: Bloody Murder: from the Detective Story to the Crime Novel? First published in 1972 with a third revised edition in 1993, it remains the best history of the genre. Among the titles he highlights is The Three Impostors by Arthur Machen, even though it only contains elements of crime and detection. He wrote an introduction to an edition entitled The Black Crusade, published by John Baker in 1964. Corgi reprinted it in 1966.
Yep, basically I was as well. It's not a bad book, and I do like a critical work whose opinions I can argue with, sometimes out loud (though never on the tube...), but my reservations expressed above stop me liking it wholeheartedly. I think any critical work has this issue, unless the writer specifically defines his criteria and subject boundaries - as Richard Usborne does in Clubland Heroes (regarding Sapper, Buchan and Yates), and Vivian Butler does in The Durable Desperadoes (regarding Charteris and Creasey in particular, with writers such as Bruce Graeme included with the type of fiction included strictly delineated). Those are excellent books if you like that kind of crime fiction, mostly because they ringfence their literary criteria - for instance, Butler looks at Creasey and Charteris in terms of how their heroes fitted into the social and moral climate of their period, and takes their style as read - no comparing them to Dostoevsky here! Craig & Cadogan's The Lady Investigates, studying the distaff detective, wavers slightly in the lit crit stakes, sometimes lumping writers together just because all their leading players are female, but generally has a sane approach to the differences between, say, Nigel Moreland's juvenile style for Mrs Pym and the more arch conceits of, say, Joyce Porter (whose Hon Con was a thinly veiled statement on sexual politics).
Where the Symons does score is that it's the only overview of the whole crime canon I can think of, and is excellent for introducing lots of names and books to a newish reader. The books mentioned above, though more focused and less snobbish, are less wide-ranging. (* I've never read Colin Watson's Snobbery With Violence, so don't know if it's an overview of crime fiction, or focused on one aspect)
Post by Michael Connolly on Jun 9, 2015 13:16:13 GMT
The reason I mentioned Julian Symons liking The Three Impostors is because he wrote somewhere else (and I can't remember where) that he did not like horror stories. For that reason, I would like to read his introduction to The Black Crusade, but I have never seen a copy of it.
H. Greenhough Smith – The Case Of Roger Carboyne: When horse-riding across a cliff top, keep an eye out for low-flying aeronauts. Medical student Roger Carboyne failed to observe this golden rule, and look what happened to him!
L. G. Moberly – Inexplicable: Dream home for sale at give-away price! Much to May's delight, 119 Glazebrook Terrace, Prillsbury, is on the market, and previous owner has kindly included a valuable antique table carved with alligator figures in with the asking price. True, the old place smells a bit swamp-ish, but that'll be the drains - nothing the servants won't be able to put right with a little elbow grease! Problem is, the servants don't stick around long enough to do anything bar scream about evil 'thing's slithering along the floor ....
C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne – The Lizard: Setting is Kettlewell, Wharfedale on the Yorkshire Moors. A roof fall in the hillside reveals a new opening for keen cave-hunter Chesney to explore. Unfortunately for him, the landslide has disturbed a weird prehistoric carnivorous monster of prodigious strength and appetite to match. Chesney escapes, but speculates as to the fate of a Mr. Wilfred Cecil Cording, or Cordy, whose lighter he retrieved from the lizard's lair.
L. de Giberne Sieveking – The Prophetic Camera: As with so many of these stories, the spoiler is in the title. Mr. Muffle, the over-generous proprietor of a pawn shop, pays out £5 against a standard camera, seemingly because the customer has a really sad face. His wife taunts him that he's been turned over yet again, the crafty old timer will never return to redeem his ticket on that piece of junk. But then little nephew Charlie comes to stay, and a commemorative snapshot is required. The results are far from what they should be! The shop has changed its name, Mr. Muffle looks happy and well-dressed, Charlie's an adult, and there's no sign of moaning wife! Charlie takes more photos. The local chemist, who develops the plates, plans for entire world domination.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.
My copy arrived today and I am looking forward to delving into the stories. There must be many tales that were published in the myriad of magazines that flourished back then, now languishing in obscurity, that deserve seeing the light of day again in collections like this one.
I wondered when reading 'The Lizard' if the name 'William Cecil Cording or Cordy' had any particular significance or whether the author just conjured it up. When the narrator was exploring the cave I had visions of the Dr. Who serial 'The Silurians' as there is a prehistoric creature lurking in a cave in that one as well.
I really liked 'Inexplicable.' An unusual spin on the traditional haunted house story.