THE MAN WHO HATED TELEVISION AND OTHER STORIES by Julian Symons (Pan £4.99)
THE WYCLIFFE OMNIBUS by W. J. Burley (Gollancz £16.99)
DEATH ON THE AIR AND OTHER STORIES by Ngaio Marsh (HarperCollins £4.99)
A SORT OF VIRTUE was Julian Symons' last novel. He called it "A Political Crime Novel", since it revolves around various government ministers and their attempts to cover up their unattractive relations, but I suppose, since it is set in the near future (after John Major has retired), it could also be called science fiction. And then again, it is also a police procedural revolving around the inquiries of Chief Superintendent Hilary Catchpole. In fact, it is a lot of things, but that does not mean that it is a dog's dinner The background is the investigation of the murder of a prostitute, while the Home Secretary keeps a discrete watch. In the meantime, the National Liberals scent a political scandal, but a car crash means they never get very far. What Symons has managed to do is keep up with the times and what he has done in A SORT OF VIRTUE is use a fast-cutting technique that swaps between scenes and styles and characters (Gideon re-made as Metropolitan Police Blue, shown on Channel 4).
I am not sure that this was Symons' last draft. In particular, there is that car-crash which is never explained (like the chauffeur in THE BIG SLEEP), and there is a mental home like Greene's MINISTRY OF FEAR, but overall this reads fast and easy. His last short story collection THE MAN WHO HATED TELEVISION shows just the same facility. Some of these stories are not new ("Et in Arcadia Ego" is called a classic in the blurb, though I've never read it before), but Symons keeps the tales twisting.
Ngaio Marsh's DEATH ON THE AIR includes a couple of essays on how she created Inspector Alleyn and the title story, all of which I have read before. The biggest item is her script,"Evil Liver", for TV's Crown Court broadcast in 1975. It is just as hidebound by tradition as the Wycliffe stories, but then she had helped to created that tradition. And bibliophiles will be grateful for the publishing details, which are missing in the Symons' short stories.
THE WYCLIFFE OMNIBUS collects three novels from the mid-80's. By chance and a three day holiday I know the setting of a couple of them. As I re-walked the streets of Falmouth in WYCLIFFE AND THE WINSOR (sic) BLUE I could see it all. But then I met the same middle-class, artistic characters in the next novel and the next and felt I wasn't being surprised as much as I should. When I got to WYCLIFFE AND THE QUIET VIRGIN and found all the dubious family in one big house for Christmas and a pistol gone missing, I had an idea I was not going to be surprised or outraged at the final d)nouement. And I wasn't.
In a letter of comment to A SHOT IN THE DARK Douglas G. Greene pointed out that the bibliographic information in DEATH ON THE AIR is not accurate. My trust was mis-placed.
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