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.