Julian Symons – Bloody Murder, Part 3

Julian Symons – Bloody Murder: From the detective story to the crime novel (1985 Rev. Ed.)
Part 3 of 3, by Stephen Randorf.

I was hoping to wrap this up in two parts but, as you can see, I got carried away with earlier authors and I never did reach the point of mentioning Symons’s impressions of the more current writers in this genre, which I will do now. But first, let me pause for a second to give a spoiler alert. Julian Symons’s Bloody Murder was revised and republished in 1985, which means no discussion of Ian Rankin, no Sue Grafton, no Elmore Leonard. Gorky Park, yes; but no Dan Brown or James Patterson.

It does mean that a good discussion of Rene Raymond (1906-1985), better known as James Hadley Chase or by his other pen-name Raymond Marshall, is included. After reviewing Raymond’s list of novels, he is apparently another one of those writers who had no life except for the one in front of the typewriter. Unfortunately, as Symons comments, “At worst the writing in his books is shoddy, at best like a secondhand James M. Cain” (199). In regard to Mickey Spillane (1918-2006) and the crude violence he saw in the novels, Symons says, “The most nauseating and disquieting thing about these books is that Mike Hammer is the hero” (202). There is enough information available (including YouTube) regarding the author, Mickey Spillane, and his novels that one can form his or her own opinion. Symons is also less kind to the one-time popular Dennis Wheatley (1897-1977) whose work he says “may appeal to readers with a mental age of twelve” (202).

More space is devoted to Ed McBain, who fairs better in Symons’s opinion. There is also Ross McDonald, and the mention of George V. Higgins (1939 – 99) who he claimed had written “the most interesting and extraordinary recent work in the crime story” genre (175). This includes The Digger’s Game (1973) and Cogan’s Trade (1974). Of course Symons does discuss the works by P. D. James and Ruth Rendell as well as the Superintendent Andy Dalziel novels by Reginald Hill in good detail.

Under the chapter heading, “Big Producers and Big Sellers,” Symons goes on to mention about 20 plus writers, giving them about a paragraph or two each. And then, finally, we have “A Short History of the Spy Story.” In Symons’s typical fashion, he starts with the earliest, James Fenimore Cooper, but quickly goes on to discuss William Le Queux (1864-1927) and his spy novels, which took place during the time when “France was regarded as the prime danger to British security until the end of the nineteenth century when it was replaced by Germany” (215-16). Of course, there is mention of Graham Greene (1904-91) and his use of the thriller genre and how he “sometimes loads it with a weight of meaning that is too great for the form to bear” (Symons 222). After Bulldog Drummond he goes on to discuss the more current Eric Amber, Ian Fleming, John Le Carré, Anthony Price; and the adventure novels of Dick Francis, Gavin Lyall and Lionel Davidson.

In the 1972 edition of Bloody Murder, Symons made a few predictions regarding the crime novel genre. As he states, he attempted to “look into the crystal ball and predict the course of crime stories during the following ten years” (234). In the 1985 edition, he comments on how accurate those predictions were, that is, after the ten years had elapsed. In his concluding chapter, Symons states:

   There seems to me no doubt that since the end of the Second World War the crime
   story has interested more good writers than before, and that their approach has been
   more intelligent and varied, and their handling of criminal themes less trivial, than
   that of their Golden Age predecessors. Most crime writers produce too much, some
   exhaust their talent, but the best of the last decade shows that the vein still contains
   much gold (238).

I would like to point out that Mr. Symons (1912-1994) was a crime writer himself. Wikipedia has a long list of his works (novels, short stories, critiques, and biographies), most of which can still be purchased at your local used bookstore or favorite e-store.

Symons, Julian. Bloody Murder: From the detective story to the crime novel. Rev. Ed. England:
  Viking, 1985.