Friday 18 December 2009

Forgotten Book - The Blackheath Poisonings

Once again, my pick for Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books is a title by the late, great Julian Symons. The Blackheath Poisonings is one of his ventures into Victorian crime – Sweet Adelaide, based on the real-life Adelaide Bartlett case, is another – and it carries a particular memory for me.

During the 1990s, Nottingham was the place for crime fans to visit, during the annual Shots on the Page convention. The convention was, so far as I know, the brainchild of Maxim Jakubowski, who worked closely with film specialist Adrian Wootton. I missed the first of the conventions, but attended all the others and found them most enjoyable. They paved the way for Nottingham to host Bouchercon itself – quite a coup for Maxim and his colleagues, and the last time that Bouchercon crossed the Atlantic.

One year, the convention hosted an advance screening of an adaptation for TV of The Blackheath Poisoinings. The small screen version was excellent, benefiting from a first rate cast that included Zoe Wanamaker, Judy Parfitt and Ronald Fraser, as well as a screenplay that was sympathetic to Symons’ original story.

And a very good story it is, with a sharp eye on the sexual complexities lying just beneath the surface of late Victorian society. A respectable family is torn apart by poison, and poisonous suspicion. One of the characters is tried for murder, but before the story is concluded, there will be another death, and the revelation of an unsuspected criminal.

Julian Symons inscribed my copy of this novel (which is a hardback reprint, published not long before his death from cancer)when we were together at a CWA conference in Brighton. Characteristically, he added a question: ‘A good Victorian crime story?’ The answer is an unequivocal yes.

(P.S. - For unfathomable reasons, at present, I am able to send but not receive emails, so if you've emailed me in the past three days, please don't think the absence of a reply means I'm ignoring you....)


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Oh, modern technology! Computers are great...until they're not. Hope your email issues are resolved soon.

I *haven't* read "Blackheath Poisonings." I've got it on my list now, though.

Mystery Writing is Murder

pattinase (abbott) said...

I did read it. Oh, I'd love to see the TV adaptation. Wonder if it's on netflix.

Martin Edwards said...

Patti, my recollection is that the TV version was well reviewed, and I'm rather surprised it hasn't been seen much on British TV since (at least, as far as I know). Netfix, I don't know about, but if you get the chance to see it (or to read it, Elizabeth), you won't be disappointed.

Evan Lewis said...

Symons. Still another famous name I've neglected. This sounds like a good one.

vegetableduck said...

I saw the last part of this film on Mystery when it first aired in the US. I wish I hadn't now, because the ending is quite neat and I would have preferred to read it first. I hadn't recalled that Zoe Wanamaker and Judy Parfitt were in the film, that's impressive. Was Parfitt the mother?

I think this is one of Symons' best novels.

Minnie said...

How very frustrating for you, being deprived of email access. Hope problem has been resolved by now.
Thank you for this fascinating review. Big fan of Julian Symons, here. He's another writer - like the inestimable (& in my view superior to her better-known spouse, Ross MacDonald) Margaret Millar - who is re-discovered occasionally. Not nearly frequently or loudly enough, tho'!

flip said...

ITV3 repeat 'The Blackheath Poisonings' quite often in the UK, Martin. You've probably missed about 5 showings of it this year ;)
For American readers of the blog, it is available on R1 dvd.

Wish Nottingham still had the crime conventions....

Martin Edwards said...

Even, I'm sure you will like Symons - a varied and intelligent writer.
Curt - yes, I think Parfitt was the mother. She also starred in The Charmer, which I covered recently.

Martin Edwards said...

Minnie, I too am a great fan of Margaret Millar.
Flip - well I never - I need to look at the schedules more, obviously. I shall keep a look out for this one, as I really did enjoy it first time around. Thanks very much for letting me know.

Teak said...

I will give this one a read. sounds really interesting.

flip said...

Update: 'The Blackheath Poisonings' is being released on dvd in the UK on April 26th :)