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.

Julian Symons (1912 – 1994)

thJulian Gustave Symons (originally Gustave Julian Symons) (30 May 1912 – 19 November 1994) was a British crime writer and poet. He also wrote social and military history, biography and studies of literature. He was born in Clapham, London and died in Walmer, Kent.

Julian Symons was born in London to a Russian or Polish-born father (Alphonse Maurice Brann) and an English mother (Minnie) of French and Spanish antecedents. He was a younger brother, and later the biographer, of writer A. J. A. Symons. He left school at 14. He founded the poetry magazine Twentieth Century Verse in 1937, editing it for two years. “He turned to crime writing in a light–hearted way before the war and soon afterwards established himself as a leading exponent of it, though his use of irony to show the violence behind the respectable masks of society place many of his books on the level of the orthodox novel.” As an early Trotskyist, he applied for recognition as an anti-capitalist conscientious objector in World War II, but was refused by his tribunal. He chose not to appeal, and ended up in the Royal Armoured Corps 1942 to 1944, when he was invalided out with a non-battle-related arm injury. After a period as an advertising copywriter, he became a full-time writer in 1947. During his career he won two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America and, in 1982, received the MWA’s Grand Master Award. Symons served as the president of the Detection Club from 1976 till 1985.

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.

Symons published over thirty crime novels and story collections between 1945 and 1994. His works combined elements of both the detective story and the crime novel, but leaned clearly toward the latter, with an emphasis on character and psychology which anticipated later crime fiction writers such as Ruth Rendell and P.D. James. His novels tend to focus on ordinary people drawn into a murderous chain of events; the intricate plots are often spiced with black humour. Novels typical of his style include The Colour of Murder (1957), the Edgar-winning The Progress of a Crime (1960), The Man Whose Dreams Came True (1968), The Man Who Lost His Wife (1970) and The Plot Against Roger Ryder (1973). (From Wikipedia). He won two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America, from 1958 he was chairman of the Crime Writers Association and, from 1976 to 1985, succeeded Agatha Christie as president of the Detection Club.

He [Julian Symons] will probably be best remembered as a critic, but in truth his range was astonishing – he was a poet, biographer and social historian, as well as author of some of the best British crime novels of the post-war era. The End of Solomon Grundy, Progress of a Crime, and (a special favourite of mine for its sheer entertainment value)The Man Whose Dreams Came True, were all excellent, and his other novels were never less than interesting. Some of his books focus on social attitudes, but he had read so widely in the genre that his twisty plotting was of a very high quality. The Plot Against Roger Rider is ingenious, and Sweet Adelaide shows his insight into true crime cases. A very late book, Death’s Darkest Face, was among his finest achievements, although sadly, it has never attracted the attention it deserved. Anyone keen on British crime fiction who is unfamiliar with his work has a real treat in store. (Martin Edwards at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’)

Further reading: In Praise of… Julian Symons by Xavier Lerchard

Bibliography: The Immaterial Murder Case (1945); A Man Called Jones (1947); Bland Beginning (1949); The Thirty-First of February (1950); The Broken Penny (1953); The Narrowing Circle (1954); The Paper Chase (1956); The Colour of Murder (1957); The Gigantic Shadow (1958); The Progress of a Crime (1960); Murder! Murder! (1961); The Killing of Francie Lake (1962); The End of Solomon Grundy (1964); The Belting Inheritance (1965); Francis Quarles Investigates (1965); The Man Who Killed Himself (1967); The Man Whose Dreams Came True (1968); The Man Who Lost His Wife (1970); The Players and the Game (1972); The Plot Against Roger Rider (1973); A Three Pipe Problem (1975); How to Trap a Crook (1977); The Blackheath Poisonings (1978); Sweet Adelaide (1980); The Great Detectives (1981); The Detling Murders (1982); Tigers in Subtopia (1983); The Name of Annabel Lee (1983); The Criminal Comedy of a Contented Couple (1985); The Kentish Manor Murders (1988); Death’s Darkest Face (1990); Something Like a Love Affair (1992).


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Collins The Crime Club (UK, (1957)

John Wilkins meets a beautiful, irresistible girl, and his world is turned upside down. Looking at his wife, and thinking of the girl, everything turns red before his eyes – the colour of murder. But did he really commit the heinous crime he was accused of? Told innovatively in two parts: the psychiatric assessment of Wilkins and the trial for suspected murder on the Brighton seafront, Symons’ award-winning mystery tantalizes the reader with glimpses of the elusive truth and makes a daring exploration of the nature of justice itself. (British Library Crime Classics)

The Colour of Murder was one of the most acclaimed British novels of the 1950s. On publication, it received a rapturous reception from the critics, and it won the prize given by the Crime Writers’ Association for the best crime novel of the year n 1957; then called the Crossed Red Herring prize, it is now known as the CWA Gold Dagger.

At that time, the book seemed highly contemporary, with its focus on the psychological make-up of a man accused of murder. Today, more than sixty years later, it is also of interest in the way it documents British social history. The Colour of Murder remains a crisply written and highly readable novel, with a clever plot, even if it is very different from the cerebral whodunits that were in vogue during the Golden Age of Murder between the world wars. (From Martin Edwards Introduction to the recent issue of The Colour of Murder, British Library Crime Classics, 2019)

The Colour of Murder has been reviewed, among others, at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ Books Please, CrossExaminingCrime, Mysteries Ahoy! Crime Review UK, The Invisible Event, In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, and Northern Reader.