Julian Symons was, I think, a good writer — just one I don’t get along with very well. He plays well with perspective and voice, and he can certainly put together a story — which is not an impression another repeat British Library Crime Classic author I detest gives me (John Dickson Carr, sorry folks) — but I just don’t enjoy his books. This is the third book of his I’ve read, and I think I appreciate them less with each successive book I read. It doesn’t matter that I know he did his research, or even that I’m curious about the true story that germinated the idea for him. I just… don’t like the book.
Which I hate to say, because I’ve enjoyed most of my tour into Golden Age crime fiction to one degree or another (E.C.R. Lorac’s books very much; Gil North’s, not at all)… but Symons’ work just doesn’t work for me. I’m always feeling like I picked up a smooth dry-looking stone and found a craggy wormy maggoty mess under it. It just leaves me feeling icky. There’s no characters you can really unambiguously enjoy, either because they’re fun caricatures or because they’re people you can root for: everything’s just complicated and messy, and the ending feels like a relief just because it’s over with (though it’s not a relief because it ends on a massive downer).
Not the era/genre of crime fiction that tends to end with the world set to rights, clearly!