A Further Note On: Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel (1993) by Julian Symons

976721After finishing reading Julian Symons’ Bloody Murder (1974), I have had a chance to have a glance at the 1993 edition, and it hasn’t really changed my view of the book. There are, obviously, some updates, and I’m truly delightful to find out Symons speaking in laudatory terms of William McIlvanney.

I’ve also noted the change on my previous quote about Christianna Brand that now reads: ‘Christianna Brand (1907 – 1988) often wrote too hectically for her own good. Green for Danger (1944) is her most popular book, Cat and Mouse (1950) her best.’

My Book Notes: Bloody Murder. From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel: A History (1972) by Julian Symons

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

Published with revision in Penguin Books, 1974. Format: Paperback. 272 pages. ISBN: 0-14-003794-2 / 978-0-14-003794-4 (UK edition). First published by Faber and Faber Limited, 1972.

51ZdwlQ0vgL.SX316.SY316When it appeared in 1972 Bloody Murder was greeted as the classic study of crime fiction, a book “heartily recommended to anyone who has ever enjoyed a detective story or a crime novel” as Kingsley Amis wrote. Subsequent edition ensured that this study was kept up to date to include later authors, and a third and final revised edition was issued in 1993 in celebration of distinguished author/critic Julian Symons’ 80th year. The views expressed are as candid as ever. One bestselling writer is called unreadable, another compared to writers of “strip cartoon stories”. But the general tone is warmly appreciative of every sort of book within the genre. (Source: Goodreads)

Symons’s 1972 book Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel (published as Mortal Consequences in the US) is one of the best-known critical works in the field of crime fiction. Revised editions were published in 1985, 1992 and finally in 1994. Symons highlighted the distinction between the classic puzzler mystery, associated with such writers as Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, and the more modern “crime novel,” which puts emphasis on psychology and motivation. (Source: Wikipedia)

My Take: I’ve just finished reading Julian Symons’ Bloody Murder. From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel: A History. I had consulted it several times and sometimes I had used it as a reference of some authors and novels, but this is the first time I’ve read it from start to finish. Regrettably my edition from 1974 is an old one, and it has been followed by two updates, one by Penguin in 1986 and the one I believe is the final edition by Mysterious Press in 1993. I therefore understand that some of Symons views may have changed subsequently.

The book is divided in seventeen chapters and two indices, one of books and short stories and the other of authors and names. Therefore it is easy to check at a glance the authors missing. The chapters are entitled: 1. What They Are and Why We Read Them, 2. The Two Strands: Godwin, Vidocq, Poe. 3. Dickens, Collins, Gaboriau: the Pattern Forms, 4. Interregnum, 5. The Case of Sherlock Holmes, 6. The Short Story: the First Golden Age, 7. The Rise of the Novel, 8. The Golden Age: the Twenties, 9. The Golden Age: the Thirties, 10. The Golden Age: Rebellion, 11. Simenon and Maigret, 12. ‘Mr Queen, will you be good enough to explain your famous character’s sex life, if any?’, 13. The Short Story’s Mutations, 14. Crime Novel and Police Novel, 15. Big Producers and Big Sellers, Curiosities and Singletons, 16. A Short History of the Spy Story, and 17. In the Crystal Ball.  I must confess that the first chapters I read, and that I have read more often, are: Simenon and Maigret, and The Case of Sherlock Holmes.

For someone, like myself, who despite his age, is a newcomer to the world of crime story, although with all its shortcomings, I believe it is quite an interesting and important book to explore our favourite genre in greater detail. Although I cannot refrain from saying that Symons, unintentionally perhaps, was not himself responsible that some authors have been unjustly forgotten and, their books, have not been re-published. Undoubtedly the publishing houses have very much born in mind whether a book or an author have or have not been mentioned by Julian Symons in this book. On the other hand, Symons views, are nothing more than just that, his own personal opinions that should be taken with a pinch of salt. They are no absolute truths, neither are they set in stone.

I won’t mention here Symons unfair treatment to those authors to whom he call, in derogatory terms, “humdrums”. In this sense I highly recommend the reading of Curtis Evans book Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart and the British Detective Novel, 1920-1961 (McFarland, 2014). But I cannot fail to highlight the only reference he makes to one of my favourite authors, Chistianna Brand, to whom he devotes just a couple of lines:

Among the several engaging, but rather too hectic, stories written by (Mary) CHRISTIANNA BRAND ( 1907 – ), Cat and Mouse (1950) stands out through the firmness of its setting in wildest Wales, and because the author seems here to take her characters just a little more seriously than usual. (page 223).

Finally, I would like to add, if you are interested in this subject, to have a look at the excellent post at Cross-Examining Crime blog, A Reader’s Guide to Books about Crime Fiction and, of course, to the excellent site, A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection, by Mike Grost.

About the Author: Julian Gustave Symons (1912 – 1994) is primarily remembered as a master of the art of crime writing. However, in his eighty-two years he produced an enormously varied body of work. Social and military history, biography and criticism were all subjects he touched upon with remarkable success, and he held a distinguished reputation in each field. His novels were consistently highly individual and expertly crafted, raising him above other crime writers of his day. It is for this that he was awarded various prizes, and, in 1982, named as Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America – an honour accorded to only three other English writers before him: Graham Greene, Eric Ambler and Daphne Du Maurier. He succeeded Agatha Christie as the president of Britain’s Detection Club, a position he held from 1976 to 1985, and in 1990 he was awarded the Cartier Diamond Dagger from the British Crime Writer. (Source: Fantastic Fiction)

My rating: Since this is not a work of fiction, I’m not going to give it any rating.

Further reading:

Bloody Murder has been reviewed, among others, at At the Scene of the Crime, Tipping My Fedora, At The Villa Rose, and Past Offences.

Historia del relato policial de Julian Symons

Cuando apareció en 1972, Bloody Murder (publicada en español como Historia del relato policial) fue recibido como el estudio clásico de la ficción criminal, un libro “recomendado de todo corazón a cualquiera que haya disfrutado alguna vez de una novela policiaca o de una novela negra”, como escribió Kingsley Amis. La edición posterior aseguró que este estudio se mantuviera actualizado para incluir autores posteriores, y en 1993 se emitió una tercera y última edición revisada en celebración del 80 aniversario del distinguido autor y crítico Julian Symons. Las opiniones expresadas son tan sinceras como siempre. Un escritor superventas es denominado ilegible, otro es comparado con escritores de “historias de dibujos animados”. Pero el tono general es cordialmente elogioso de cada clase de libro dentro del género. (Fuente: Goodreads)

El libro de 1972 de Symons Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel (publicado como Mortal Consequences en los Estados Unidos) es una de las obras críticas más conocidas en el campo de la ficción criminal. Las ediciones revisadas se publicaron en 1985, 1992 y finalmente en 1994. Symons destaca la distinción entre el clásico misterio-enigma, asociado con escritores como Agatha Christie y John Dickson Carr, y la más moderna “novela negra”, que pone el énfasis en la psicología y la motivación. (Fuente: Wikipedia)

Mi opinión: Acabo de terminar de leer Bloody Murder de Julian Symons. Del relato policial a la novela negra: una historia. Lo había consultado varias veces y en ocasiones lo había usado como referencia de algunos autores y novelas, pero esta es la primera vez que lo leo de principio a fin. Lamentablemente, mi edición de 1974 es antigua, y ha tenido dos actualizaciones posteriores, una de Penguin en 1986 y la que creo que es la edición definitiva de Mysterious Press en 1993. Por tanto, entiendo que algunas de las opiniones de Symons pueden haber cambiado posteriormente.

El libro está dividido en diecisiete capítulos y dos índices, uno de libros y relatos breves y el otro de autores y nombres. Por lo tanto, es fácil verificar de un vistazo los autores que faltan. Los capítulos se titulan: 1. ¿Qué son y por qué las leemos? 2. Las dos corrientes: Godwin, Vidocq, Poe. 3. Dickens, Collins, Gaboriau: las pautas, 4. Interregno, 5. El caso de Sherlock Holmes, 6. La novela corta: primera Edad de Oro, 7. El advenimiento de la novela, 8. La Edad de Oro: los años veinte, 9. La Edad de Oro: los años treinta, 10. La Edad de Oro: la rebelión, 11. Simenon y Maigret, 12. “Señor Queen, ¿quiere tener la bondad de explicarnos la vida sexual de su famoso personaje, en caso de que la tenga?”, 13 Las transformaciones de la novela corta, 14. Novela negra y novela policiaca, 15. Grandes trabajadores y grandes vendedores, curiosidades y singularidades, 16. Breve historia de la novela de espionaje, y 17. En la bola de cristal. Debo confesar que los primeros capítulos que leí, y que he leído con más frecuencia, son: Simenon y Maigret, y El caso de Sherlock Holmes.

Para alguien, como yo, que a pesar de su edad, es un recién llegado al mundo de la novela criminal, aun con todas sus deficiencias, considero que es un libro bastante interesante e importante para explorar nuestro género favorito con mayor detalle. Aunque no puedo evitar decir que Symons, involuntariamente tal vez, no fue responsable de que algunos autores hayan sido injustamente olvidados y que sus libros no hayan sido publicados nuevamente. Indudablemente, las editoriales han tenido muy presente si un libro o un autor ha sido mencionado o no por Julian Symons en este libro. Por otro lado, las opiniones de Symons no son más que eso, sus propias opiniones personales que deben tomarse con gran cautela. No son verdades absolutas, ni están grabadas en piedra.

No mencionaré aquí el trato injusto de Symons a aquellos autores a los que llama, en términos despectivos, “humdrums” “monótonos o aburridos”. En este sentido, recomiendo la lectura del libro de Curtis Evans Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart and the British Detective Novel, 1920-1961 (McFarland, 2014). Pero no puedo dejar de destacar la única referencia que hace a uno de mis autores favoritos, Chistianna Brand, a quien dedica solo un par de líneas:

Entre las varias historias atractivas, pero demasiado caóticas, escritas por (Mary) CHRISTIANNA BRAND (1907 -), Cat and Mouse (1950) destaca por la dureza de su escenario en el Gales más salvaje, y porque el autor parece tomarse aquí a sus personajes algo más en serio de lo habitual. (página 223).

Finalmente, me gustaría agregar, si está interesado en este tema, echar un vistazo a la excelente publicación en el blog Cross-Examining Crime, A Reader’s Guide to Books about Crime Fiction y, por supuesto, al excelente sitio, A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection, de Mike Grost.

Sobre el Autor: Julian Gustave Symons (Londres, 30 de mayo de 1912 – Balneario de Kent, 19 de noviembre de 1994), fue un escritor británico, famoso por sus novelas policiacas. De humilde familia de inmigrantes judíos rusos, Symons fue un militante trotskista y poeta en su juventud y sirvió en el Ejército británico durante la II Guerra Mundial. Su primera novela, The immaterial murder case (El caso del asesinato inmaterial), se publicó en 1945. Escribió después una treintena de novelas policíacas, entre ellas El color del asesinato, El círculo se estrecha y Así acabó Salomón Grundy, que son las más conocidas en el mundo hispánico a causa de sus traducciones al español. Otras de sus obras son Los crímenes de Blackheat, Jugando a matar, Treinta y uno de febrero o El hombre que se mató a sí mismo y a otros. Escribió a veces pastiches de Arthur Conan Doyle y sus relatos sobre Sherlock Holmes. Amigo de George Orwell y de Agatha Christie, presidió el Detection Club entre 1976 y 1985. En su obra de no ficción destacan una biografía de Edgar Allan Poe y una historia del género policiaco y de la novela negra que ha sido traducida al español por la editorial Bruguera con el título de Historia del relato policial (1982). (Fuente: Wikipedia)

Mi valoración: Al no tratarse de una obra de ficción, no voy a darle ninguna valoración.

Ruth Fenisong (1904-1978)

descarga(1)Ruth Fenisong was born Ruth Feinsong on April 29, 1904 in New York City, the child of Jewish immigrants. During the Thirties she was employed by the Federal Theater Project, writing and staging plays, often with a Leftist slant. Fenisong began her mystery career during World War II with Murder Needs a Name, featuring Lieutenant Gridley Nelson, the Princeton-educated son of an upscale family who decides he wants to be a cop. Nelson was the hero of thirteen mysteries by Fenisong, written between 1942 and 1962. New York Times critic Anthony Boucher frequently praised her novels, singling Nelson out as a “quietly perceptive detective.” Fenisong lived for years in Greenwich Village with her life partner Kathleen Gallagher, an English teacher from Ireland, often traveling to Europe together and other locales together. Fenisong died in September 1978 in New York. (Source: Stark House Press).

Shortly after her death, Fenisong’s books fell out of publishing fashion until earlier this year, when Stark House Press, for the first time following nearly fifty years, offers a new generation of readers two Gridley Nelson mysteries in a single volume: Dead Weight and Deadlock.


Gridley Nelson, series: Murder Needs a Face (1942), Murder Needs a Name (1942), The Butler Died in Brooklyn (1943), Murder Runs a Fever (1943), Grim Rehearsal (1950), Dead Yesterday (1951), Deadlock (1952), The Wench Is Dead (1953), Miscast for Murder aka Too Lovely To Live (1954), Bite the Hand aka The Blackmailer (1956), Death of the Party (1958), But Not Forgotten aka Sinister Assignment (1960), and Dead Weight (1962).

Non-series: Jenny Kissed Me aka Death Is a Lovely Lady (1944), The Lost Caesar aka Death Is a Gold Coin (1945), Desperate Cure (1946), Snare for Sinners (1949), Ill Wind (1950), Widow’s Plight aka Widows’ Blackmail (1955), Homicide Honeymoon (1956), The Schemers aka The Case of the Gloating Landlord (1957), Villainous Company (1967), and The Drop of a Hat (1970).

Further reading: A Life of Crime: Ruth Fenisong (1904-1978) by Curtis Evans at The Passing Tramp.

91aerzs7gYLSynopsis: Glen Williams is dead, shot through the chest. Lieutenant Gridley Nelson, Acting Captain of Homicide, has more than enough suspects since Williams had a large circle of friends to whom he offered hope and encouragement. To Joss and Morgan Woodruff he promised patronage for Morgan’s song-writing talents. To Tom Gaudio, help in promoting his photography. To Sarah Thrace, a has-been actress, he offered the chance of a comeback. And to Fred and Dora Storch, he promised care for their mentally handicapped son. Williams gathered them all around him like a guardian angel. But did he intend to deliver on his promises? Could one of his dear friends have had a reason to kill him?

Deadlock has been reviewed, among others, at Golden Age of Detection Wiki, Cross-Examining Crime, Dead Yesterday.

J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1814 – 1873)

Albeit perhaps not with the same frequency, I resume today my profiles of authors that contributed in some way to the development of our favourite genre.

26930Sheridan Le Fanu, in full Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, (born Aug. 28, 1814, Dublin, Ire.—died Feb. 7, 1873, Dublin), Irish writer of ghost stories and mystery novels, celebrated for his ability to evoke the ominous atmosphere of a haunted house.

Le Fanu belonged to an old Dublin Huguenot family and was related on his mother’s side to Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, he became a lawyer in 1839 but soon abandoned law for journalism. The Purcell Papers, written while he was a student, show his mastery of the supernatural and were collected in three volumes in 1880. Between 1845 and 1873 he published 14 novels, of which Uncle Silas (1864) and The House by the Churchyard (1863) are the best known. He contributed numerous short stories, mostly of ghosts and the supernatural, to the Dublin University Magazine, which he owned and edited from 1861 to 1869. In a Glass Darkly (1872), a book of five long stories, is generally regarded as his best work; it includes his classic story “Carmilla,” which popularized the theme of the female vampire. Le Fanu also owned the Dublin Evening Mail and other newspapers. (Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica).

[Le Fanu] has had no discernible influence on other writers. Yet in the last decade of his life he produced a dozen novels mostly concerned with crime, of which four are worth remembering and at least one is a brilliant mystery puzzle. [Uncle Silas (1864), By the Churchyard (1863), and Checkmate (1871)] But the book referred to as a brilliant mystery puzzle, Wylder’s Hand (1864), is Le Fanu’s chief contribution in the field pf detection. . . . All this should have been enough to establish Le Fanu as one of the most important originators of the crime novel, but in this respect he has never received acknowledgment. (Julian Symons’ Bloody Murder. From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel: A History, Penguin Books, 1974. pp. 60-62)

Mike Grost at A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection wrote: ‘Le Fanu came to the mystery very early. Many of his first short stories (late 1830’s) were written before Poe’s mystery tales, before Dickens, and long before Wilkie Collins. However, Hawthorne was already practicing obscurely in America (early 1830’s), and Le Fanu was also a successor to Bulwer-Lytton’s Pelham (1828), not to mention Godwin and the entire Gothic novel. Le Fanu’s tales often deal with impossible crimes, generally explained by some architectural trick or secret passage. In this he shows a similarity to both the Gothic writers, and to Hoffmann’s “Fraulein de Scuderi”.’ (To continue reading please click here).

s-l1600A lost classic by one of the 19th century’s most prominent writers of ghost stories and suspense novels

The Wylders and the Brandons share a history of intermarriage, bitter rivalry, villainy and madness. The wedding of Mark Wylder to his rich and beautiful cousin, Dorcas Brandon, was to inaugurate a harmonious new era at Brandon Hall. But as the ceremony draws near, Mark disappears without trace, leaving Dorcas in shock, and the assembled family in a state of severe agitation. And when Mark’s letters arrive back at the Hall, postmarked from Europe, the sinister figure of Captain Stanley Lake emerges from the wings to claim Dorcas as his own…

First published in 1864, Wylder’s Hand was one of J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s most popular novels, but has been largely neglected – until now. It is a nerve-jangling tale of jealousy and murder, for fans of the grisly and gripping. (Source: Atlantic Books)

Wylder’s Hand has been reviewed, among others, at Vintage Pop Fictions and EuroCrime.