Saturday, 21 September 2013

Robert Barnard R.I.P.

I am very sorry to break the news that Robert Barnard, one of the most notable British detective novelists of the past forty years, has died at the age of 76. He was a winner of numerous awards, most notably the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger, in recognition of the sustained excellence of his crime writing. He was a distinguished academic, a former worker for the Fabian Society, an expert on the Bronte family and their writings, a passionate opera fan, and the author of a definitive study of Agatha Christie's crime writing, A Talent to Deceive.

Bob Barnard was also one of the first friends I made in the crime writing world. When I attended the inaugural meeting of the northern chapter of the Crime Writers' Association, I was an unknown, whereas people like Bob, Reg Hill and Peter Walker were very well established authors. But from our very first lunch together, those three men (and their lovely wives, Louise, Pat and Rhoda) made me feel welcome and part of the crime writing fraternity. They became good friends, and I owe them a great deal.

I've written about Bob's work on a number of occasions (for instance, I wrote an article about him for that fine American magazine Mystery Scene - his books were enormously popular in the US), but in this short post I'd like to focus on Bob the man - and above all his sharp and mischievous sense of humour. His wit was as evident in his writing as in his conversation, and he was unfailingly entertaining company. A good many years ago (in the mid-nineties, as I recall) someone suggested he had died, a story which he found highly amusing, as he was in perfectly good health. How this bizarre mistake arose, I simply don't know.

I also found Bob personally very generous. It was typical of him that he took me as his guest to a Detection Club dinner at the Savoy nearly twenty years ago, a memorable occasion at a time when I never dreamed that one day I'd become a member of the same Club. He did me this kindness simply because he knew how much I would love the occasion. I will never forget it.

In fact, one of the last times I saw him was at the Detection Club's annual dinner in the Temple. By this time, he was becoming troubled by memory problems. For an intellectual whose memory had always been fantastic, this was a dreadful blow,and he felt unable to continue with his public speaking, something in which he excelled. I went to visit him and Louise at their home in Leeds last year, and we had a pleasant time together, but his health began to deteriorate, and this year the decline had been steep.  For Louise, who has coped with great courage during the past difficult months, the loss is profound.

As I write these words, I feel very sad indeed that he and I will not be teasing each other again -our views diverged on a handful of issues (not least pop music!), but this never mattered a bit, as it never should in any genuine friendship; in fact, I tend to think that friendships are often all the stronger when they are between people with contrasting outlooks and personalities. Mind you, amongst many other things, we shared a great admiration for Christie, and I heard him speak with considerable insight about her work at crime conferences on a couple of occasions. I also recall a fascinating tour of the Bronte House in Haworth, led by Bob during a CWA annual conference. Above all, it was a great privilege as well as a pleasure to have known Bob, and to have been lucky enough to enjoy his company on countless occasions. He has left me many memories to treasure, and I'm sure the same is true of his many other friends.

I thought I'd illustrate this blog post with a photo that reminds me of a happy occasion we shared. It was taken at the 20th anniversary lunch of the Northern Chapter. It shows Bob in conversation with Meg Elizabeth Atkins, another friend who attended that inaugual lunch, and who also died recently, and Kate Ellis's husband Roger. Both Meg and Bob were in great form that Sunday. In fact,whenever I met either of them over the past quarter of a century, they seemed to be in great form. Bob, like Meg, will be very much missed.




30 comments:

Xavier said...

Very sad to hear about this, Martin. Mr. Barnard he was an important figure in British crime writing and he'll be much missed.

Peter G. said...

Very nice remembrance, Martin.
Peter G

Peter G. said...

Very nice remembrance of him, Martin,
Peter G

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - What a lovely tribute and what sad news. He will be sorely missed.

Anonymous said...

Very sad news indeed--and so sad to hear about his memory loss, although (at least in the States) he was still publishing new work until very recently.

Deb

Frances Brody said...

I'm really sorry to hear this. I first met Bob at Headingley Library where he gave an excellent talk. He was very generous towards me when I was about to bring out my first crime novel. I went home with an armful of his excellent novels. The last time I saw him was outside M&S in Leeds when he was first becoming unwell, and we exchanged a few words. I wish I'd got to know him better.

Babara D'Amato said...

I liked him very much. Once, he and I had been told by a friend at an event hotel that we could reach the evening dinner venue by going across a small field. "You can't miss it." We found ourselves crossing an enormous golf course that had recently been thoroughly watered. He was in jolly spirits the whole way and seemed to regard it as an adventure.

J said...

By a strange coincidence, I just bought SCHOOL FOR MURDER (orig: LITTLE VICTIMS) and started reading it on my way home last night. Thank you, Martin, for sharing some personal glimpses of the man...

Kate Charles said...

Such sad news. Bob was a wonderful writer and a good friend to so many other writers.

seana graham said...

Thanks for sharing your memories of what sounds like a wonderful friendship, Martin.

Ayo Onatade said...

Oh no! This is really sad to hear. Bob was always really very nice and friendly everytime I saw him. He was a wonderful writer and I especially enjoyed reading his short stories. He will be sadly missed.

Helen said...

Sad news for all lovers of detective fiction. Thanks for that, Martin.

Jessica Mann said...

Sad news indeed; I knew, admired and liked Bob for many years. Thank you for expressing so well the feelings other friends and colleagues will share.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

So sad to hear this - I came across his work over 30 years ago and always looked forward to more - thanks for the fine tribute.

cleopatralovesbooks said...

This is sad news - thank you for this lovely tribute to him

Clothes In Books said...

Sad to hear that, but what a nice set of memories you have.

Nan said...

You've written such a lovely tribute to him. Very sad news indeed.

Anonymous said...

He gave me so much reading pleasure- I am so sorry to hear this.

Unknown said...

A very nice tribute. I've felt a bit of a connection to Robert Barnard, he and I shared the same name. I was born in 1963, he was born in 1936, we both love murder mysteries. Then again, who doesn't?

Rest in peace Mr. Barnard.

Peter Lovesey said...

Yes, Bob's passing is a great loss to our world of crime writing, but as you noted in your moving tribute, he was outstanding in several other fields. He was once on Mastermind with early Italian opera as his specialist subject. Thirty years ago this month I received a letter from him: 'Dear Mr Lovesey, I've just finished THE FALSE INSPECTOR DEW: marvellously nonchalant and devious plotting; splendidly solid characters. But what was Signor Martinelli doing, singing Nessun Dorma five years before the premiere of Turandot?'
In case I took the criticism to heart, he added: 'I suppose the trouble with writing your kind of historical whodunnits is you have millions of ghastly little smart-alecks like me waiting to pounce ...' A brilliant, lovely man.

Jasne Finnis said...

What very sad news. He'll be much missed, and warmly remembered. Thank you for your tribute, Martin.

Barb Ross said...

A lovely tribute to a wonderful writer.

For my money, "The Woman in the Wardrobe," from Death of a Salesperson and Other Untimely Exits is about the best crime short story ever.

(Or evah, as we say here in Boston.)

Martin Edwards said...

Many thanks for all these comments. The fact that they come from fellow writers as well as readers and from different parts of the world is testament to Bob's popularity.
Peter - your anecdote about that letter is terrific. Pure Bob!

TracyK said...

This is a beautiful post for a wonderful author that has provided me with so many hours of entertainment for decades. Thank you so much for this tribute.

pn and rm walker said...

Nicholas Rhea (aka Peter N. Walker said,
When I founded the Northern Chapter of the Crime Writers' Association, Bob was one of those who attended our first meeting at the Crown Hotel, Boroughbridge. Reg Hill was another and from our first moments, those two giants stole the show with their wit and astonishing knowledge of almost everthing. Together they were great company - individually they were sparkling.
When Rhoda and I took one of our very young grand-daughters to see The Magic Flute in Leeds, Bob and Lousie were there and we met in the bar. Bob fussed over young Anna, buying her a drink and treating her like a queen. Wonderful company and a great writer, one of Rhoda's favourites. He will be missed by us all.

Zoƫ Sharp said...

A lovely tribute, Martin. Whenever I met Bob Barnard he was always utterly charming and full of fun. A sad loss to the literary world.

Marni said...

Thank you sincerely for these insights to a wonderful writer who will be sorely missed.

Margaret Murphy said...

I was always in awe of Bob: his waspish wit and extensive knowledge of just about everything were renowned in the CWA Northern Chapter. So, for too long, I kept my timid distance. But I fell into conversation with him at the Bronte Parsonage after his excellent guided tour for CWA members and (as expected) I found him sharp and witty, but he was also charming, informative and generous. Thank you for sharing your memories of him, Martin.

George said...

Very insightful tribute to a unique mystery writer. I've read Barnard's books for decades. Fortunately, I still have a small stack of Barnard's books waiting to be read.

Mrs. Linda said...

The death of Robert Barnard is a loss to fans everywhere. He was a warm and witty writer. I love his work and I think he was a great talent.