Unpopular Opinion: Down with Series Characters

They're popular with both readers and critics. 
They keep the books selling. 
They're ruining the whole crime fiction genre. 
Who's that? Series characters.

Faithful readers of this blog as well as of my ramblings at Yahoo or Facebook know that I'm of the Julian Symons persuasion on this (and this alone!) and I'd like to explain why. I'm perfectly aware that mine is a minority position in the fandom, even an unpopular one, hence the sayersian title - which is quite ironic given that DLS was partially responsible for the evolution that led to me taking this stance.

Series detectives are as old as the genre itself: the founding text was the first instalment in a  trilogy featuring a Parisian detective. Then came Monsieur Lecoq, Ebenezer Gryce and of course Sherlock and his many rivals and followers. Do I think the genre would have been better off without them or the likes of Ellery Queen, Gideon Fell or Albert Campion? Obviously not. So why don't I extend the same courtesy to James Rebus or Alan Banks? Because these are different series characters inhabiting a different kind of detective stories.

The Canon for instance is not about Sherlock Holmes - we learn very little about him over the course of the stories - but about Sherlock Holmes investigating. Same goes for most of the Great Detectives, including tough guys like Marlowe or Lew Archer. Those characters have distinctive personalities, they are sometimes personally involved in the case at hand and/or are personally affected by it, but their main purpose is to investigate and to solve. They evolve only marginally over time, and each case is forgotten at the beginning of the next book. 

Modern detectives, on the other hand, are the raison d'être of the stories in which they appear. Their personalities, their issues, their relationships, their reactions to the case they're working on are the real subject of the book and the reason why readers follow them. This is in line with the modern crime novel's emphasis on character over plot, in line too with the modern love of serialized fiction - think of how TV shows have evolved from self-contained episodes to complex storylines running over whole seasons, or how the Marvel Shared Universe has completely redefined the very concept of a blockbuster. The effect in most cases however is rather that of a long-running and bloodier than usual soap opera than of "serious" novels. Another drawback is the danger of becoming too formulaic, which already existed with "old" series characters but becomes even more threatening and visible when the necessities of the feuilleton bar you from experimenting with viewpoints and structure. Finally, this brand of crime fiction attracts a kind of reader that is not primarily concerned with the criminal element but with "what happens next" to the detective, which in turn encourages writers to focus on the latter at the expense of the former.

My main criticism, however, is of an artistic order. While I'm (correctly) seen as a lover and defender of vintage crime fiction, I want modern crime fiction to be modern, which it is not, at least on a literary level. The contemporary crime novel, with its clearly delineated characters and social realism, not to mention its impressive lengths, harks back to the Victorian, at best Edwardian, era. The novelties of the twentieth century have mostly bypassed it, probably because of the hostility of writers (I've lost a count of the times I've read crime writers patting themselves on the back for not succumbing to the modernist/postmodernist sirens that according to them killed literary fiction a long time ago) It wasn't always that way: Golden Age and psychological suspense writers were not afraid to experiment and learn from their literary colleagues; it was the hardboiled school that refused to go with the times and ultimately imposed a naturalistic framework upon the whole genre, a rare case of a successful counter-revolution in the field of the arts. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, Philip MacDonald in the Thirties was more modern than John D. twenty years later.

Series characters as they do exist now stand in the way of the crime novel becoming fully modern, whatever that means to you. They must either become again what they used to be and leave the spotlight to the people involved in the case, or go the way of dinosaurs. It is of course wishful thinking as neither will happen; everyone from writers and readers to the all-(too)-powerful editors and publishers are okay with the state of things - and that's what makes this post an "unpopular opinion". 

Et le gagnant est.../And the Winner Is...

Sauf cas imprévu et improbable où je trouverais un chef-d'oeuvre à lire dans les huit prochaines heures, ce livre sera mon Livre de l'Année. 2017 n'aura pas été une grande année en ce qui concerne mes lectures, ayant souffert d'un blocage pendant plusieurs mois et très peu des livres que j'ai réussis à lire m'ayant fait une forte impression. Espérons que 2018 soit meilleure sur ce plan.

Unless I finally find something to read in the eight hours left before the big jump and it turns out to be a masterpiece, the book below will be my Book of the Year. 2017 was a rather so-so year as far as reading goes; I was on reader's block most of the time and few of the books I managed to read made a lasting impression. Let's hope 2018 is better.


John Dickson Carr's Lush Life Problem

This blog has been inactive for three months but it doesn't mean I'm not doing any thinking, far from it. One of my recent musings was about (surprise, surprise) JDC and the chances of a revival of his work. Everyone here knows I've been hoping for that for decades now and I have not forfeited every hope that it finally happens. Still, having re-read him lately I found that maybe things are more complicated than I thought for reasons that I'll call the "Lush Life" factor.
Since mystery and jazz are often linked in popular culture and even in the genre itself, I have no doubt there are connoisseurs of both over there. For others, though, a word of explanation may be necessary. "Lush Life" is a song by Duke Ellington's buddy Billy Strayhorn that has
Billy Strayhorn
become a staple of jazz music, recorded by everyone important or not in the field from Coltrane to Nat King Cole to Julie London. I don't have a count of all versions but it's certainly an impressive number. And yet the song has never been a hit. Why? Because of its complexity that makes it extremely difficult to play, to sing (Frank Sinatra famously failed to, and he was no slouch at the game) and for a casual listener to wrap his mind around as the song frequently changes chords and has no chorus. You can't hum "Lush Life" like you can do with, say, "Despacito" (sorry Billy for such a blasphemous comparison)
What's the connection with John Dickson Carr, you will ask? Well, Carr's plots are exceedingly complex and make huge demands on the reader's mind and attention. You miss one detail and you miss the whole plot. Also, you have to accept his decidedly unrealistic stance that requires you to swallow entire bottles of suspend-your-disbelief pills. That's not something everyone can do, accept to do, or even is suited to do. Carr, as Borges said about Poe, invents his own reader as he goes along - and leaves others behind.

What precedes is not a criticism. I, for one, love mysteries like I love my music - sophisticated and complex. But that's not what the general public wants, especially now. And so it's unlikely Carr ever regains his towering status commercially, though connoisseurs will always cherish his work (I certainly will) making equally unlikely that a major publisher reprints it. The indefatigable Martin Edwards has repeatedly hinted that he wanted Carr to join the British Library Crime Classics's stable but that the team behind it had always objected thus far because Carr, for all his "Englishness" was an American. Maybe the success of their foreign-themed anthology "Foreign Bodies" will mellow their stance enough for them to consider adding JDC to their roster of authors. I can't see any other way to bring him back into the spotlight in which he so richly belongs.


Agreeing to Disagreeing

Genre historians (or readers of my blog remembering my series on Edgar winners) know of that strange period in the Sixties when the MWA turned their backs on local talent and gave the Best Novel prize to British writers eight years in a row. I've always found this miniature "British invasion" interesting first for what it said about the current state of American crime fiction - then hardly in its finest hour coming after the creative explosion of the Fifties - and also because several (well, most) of those winners from abroad were virtually ignored at home.

If you take a glance at Golden Dagger and Edgar winners for that period you'll see that they overlap only once - when John Le Carré became the first of only two writers, both Brits as it happens, ever to scoop both awards for the same book. Of the other seven British Best Novel winners only two - Julian Symons's The Progress of a Crime and Eric Ambler's The Light of Day - secured a Gold Dagger nomination; the remaining ones didn't get any love and their Edgar success must have surprised a lot of people in their country of origin, probably including the authors themselves. Conversely, the Golden Dagger winners of the period barely made it to the Edgar shortlist, with only Lionel Davidson (The Night of Wenceslas) and H.R.F. Keating (The Perfect Murder) being able to achieve some recognition - but no win.

Obviously the Yanks had their own idea of what the best of British crime fiction was, an idea the persons concerned didn't agree with. The feeling was reciprocated for in the meantime the CWA rewarded two perennial American Edgar losers, Ross MacDonald and Emma Lathen, for books that the MWA had completely bypassed.

It was only the beginning. Over the next five decades both awards would routinely ignore each other's choices and now and then try to be smart by nominating/rewarding a book that was ignored on the other side of the Atlantic, a reminder that the Americans and the British still hold different views about "good" crime fiction - and that's fine by me. Besides, why should they agree when American awards themselves rarely do with each other? But more on this later.


The Demise of Twisters

"Call me old-fashioned, bjt without twists I don't consider crime short stories worthy of the name, and regret that that seems no longer to be the rule."

Thus spoke the late British crime writer David Williams, as quoted by Tim Heald in his introduction to the final volume of the Folio Club's Great Stories of Crime and Detection. Heald contrasts this with Liza Cody's following statement about the story of hers that she selected for inclusion in the collection:

"It wasn't a whodunit or even a whydunnit and there isn't any suspense because you already know what happened. But it was horribly ambitious because it attempted to take you into the mind of an ignorant, prejudiced kid as she comes to some intuition about the real victim became a victim."

David Williams
Heald then goes on to say that both approaches are valid and takes them as evidence that the genre is more varied and ambitious than it was back in the Golden Age (Heald must have read and enjoyed Julian Symons's Bloody Murder) I for one would say that there is a fundamental difference between Williams and Cody's takes on their craft that Heald fails to see: Williams aims to write crime short fiction whereas Cody writes short fiction that happens to be (peripherically) about a crime. And Williams is right that his views while formerly mainstream are no longer predominant - it was already true back in 2002 and is a truism now as the perusing of any edition of Otto Penzler's Best American Mystery Stories series will show. 

Jack Ritchie
Part of my upbringing as a mystery reader was done by reading Alfred Hitchcock anthologies; they were replete with the kind of stories David Williams cherished, and I loved them. Even when I guessed how it would end, I was admirative of the writers's ability to constantly renew their plots, characters and settings and pack the whole thing into less than thirty pages. Being an aspiring writer at the time who struggled with length, I was happy to see there was nothing wrong with keeping things short. People like Jack Ritchie, Henry Slesar, Arthur Porges, Edward D. Hoch, C.B. Gilford, Robert Arthur became demi-gods to me and I still read or re-read their work with untarnished pleasure.

None of their stories would make it into a modern anthology, however - and interestingly only Ritchie and Hoch won awards. They were too plot-driven and not "ambitious" enough at a time when a good crime story must read more like Raymond Carver than Stanley Ellin.  Most recent Edgar winners in the Short Story category I don't recognize at crime fiction - at least, my kind of it - at all (and some are openly not, such as John Connolly's otherwise fine The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository or Stephen King's Obits which are fantasy rather than mystery) 

I remember my amazement when reading Otto Penzler boasting in his preface to one of his anthologies that very few or none at all involved a detective or a puzzle, one of them dispensing with a crime altogether. I didn't buy the book and left the bookstore wondering what had happened to crime fiction. I should have asked David Williams; he knew. 



This entry is bilingual. Scroll down for the English-language version.

Le lecteur fidèle de ce blog (il a bien du mérite) a sans doute remarqué que j'y parle très rarement des livres que je lis, contrairement à la plupart de mes estimés collègues. Il y a deux raisons à cela. La première, c'est que je lis beaucoup moins qu'eux. Il fut un temps où j'atteignais la centaine de livres par an, mais cela fait un bail et à présent je considère que vingt ou trente est un bon score. La seconde, est que je suis incapable de décider de lire.  C'est le livre qui me choisit, et non l'inverse - et il peut me faire attendre très longtemps. Je viens ainsi de terminer Qui veut la peau de Philip Banter de John Franklin Bardin que j'avais dans ma bibliothèque depuis... 1992. Rassurez-vous, je n'ai pas attendu aussi longtemps pour essayer de le lire, j'ai même fait de nombreuses tentatives, mais elles se sont toutes soldées par un échec: je ne dépassais pas la première page. Pourquoi je suis parvenu cette fois à le lire en entier, c'est un mystère y compris pour moi mais - croyez-le ou non - il y a de nombreux autres livres sur mes rayonnages qui se font désirer depuis encore plus longtemps. D'autres en revanche sont moins farouches: mon préféré de cette année, Quel petit vélo à guidon chromé au fond de la cour? de Georges Pérec, s'est laissé lire sans barguigner le jour même où je l'ai ramené de la médiathèque. Comment je l'explique? Je ne peux pas. Il faut donc vivre avec, même si c'est très frustrant. J'aimerais beaucoup pouvoir changer de modèle, ne serait-ce que parce que je ne rajeunis pas et qu'à ce train-là il y a quantité de mes livres que je ne lirai probablement jamais. Il y a aussi que je manque de place - ce qui ne m'empêche pas de continuer à acheter des bouquins - et que je me vois mal vendre ou jeter des livres que je n'ai pas lus. Que faire? La suite au prochain épisode. 

P.S.: Le Bardin est très bien, même si l'explication finale est un peu tirée par les cheveux. 

You may have noticed that I rarely review books on this blog, unlike most of my esteemed colleagues. The reason is twofold. First, I don't read as much as they do - there was a time when I averaged 110 books a year but it was long ago and now I call it a good year when I manage 20 or 30. Second, I'm unable to read on purpose. The book chooses me, not the other way round, and it can keep me hanging on a long, long time. To give you an example, I've just finished reading John Franklin Bardin's The Last of Philip Banter which I bought... in 1992. I made several attempts at reading it in the meantime but somehow it never worked - I couldn't get past the first page. Why I was finally able to read it this time is anyone's guess but, believe me or not, there are books on my shelves that have been taunting me for an even longer time. Some on the other hand are easier - I read my favorite novel of the year so far, Georges Pérec's Which Moped with Chrome-plated Handlebars at the Back of the Yard? (not a mystery) on the very day that I borrowed it from my local library. How do I explain that? I can't - and I have to live with it, which is very frustrating. I'd really like to change my ways, if only because I'm not getting younger and going this way there are many books I own that I'll never read, a depressing prospect. Also I'm running out of place - worsened by the fact that I keep buying more books - and I can't bring myself to sell or dispose of books that I haven't read, that I might read. What can I do? Stay tuned for the possible answer - but don't hold your breath. 

P.S.: The Bardin is truly excellent, despite the final explanation being a little rushed. Strongly recommended. 


Golden Dozens, cont'd

Nobody asked for it but here they are nevertheless - my own twelve favorite crime/mystery stories! Hard as I tried to be more inclusive and contemporary than the 1950 jury, my list reflects my strong preference for vintage crime; the earliest story - which also happens to be the single French-language entry - is more than thirty years old. Also, despite my criticisms of the original Golden Dozen for being too biased towards traditional mysteries my own list heavily favors the genre too, though it makes room for two crime stories, one thriller and a story that defies any categorization. Finally, I had not realized until now the thing I have for Christmas mysteries - two of them feature in this list and I was about to add a third (Stanley Ellin's Death on Christmas's Eve) when I thought it might be a little too much. The keen-eyed will notice that my list has no title in common with the 1950 one but that's because 1°) I tried to be original - you'll tell me how well I've succeeded - 2°) I haven't read all of the stories in it and didn't rate the ones I read as highly as the jurors did*. But enough talk, here it is and feel free to use the comment sections to give your opinion and if needed throw me some tomatoes!

On Christmas Day in the Morning (Margery Allingham)
The Glass Bridge (Robert Arthur)
Blind Man's Hood (John Dickson Carr)
The Eye of Apollo (G.K. Chesterton)
Triangle at Rhodes (Agatha Christie)
The Adventure of the Naval Treaty (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
Moonlight Gardener (Robert L. Fish)
The Answer (Bruce M. Fisher)
Lonely Place (C.B. Gilford)
The Unlikely Demise of Cousin Claude (Charlotte MacLeod)
Lettres de mon malin (Pierre Siniac)
The Fall of the Coin (Ruth Rendell)

*The greatness of The Hands of Ottermole still eludes me to this day, despite Boucher's praise and Doug Greene's attempts at converting me. Naboth's Vineyard I find to be one the weakest entries in the Uncle Abner canon; The Age of Miracles would have been a much better choice. 


Golden Dozens

The April 1950 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine deserves a place in the magazine's own hall of fame for introducing the world to John Dickson Carr's classic The Gentleman from Paris but the rest of the contents is equally impressive, boasting big names like Graham Greene, Rufus King, Margery Allingham or Lawrence G. Blochman. Anthony Berkeley is in too, with a reprint of The Avenging Chance, arguably his masterpiece in the short form and the matrix for his best-known novel, The Poisoned Chocolates Case. The story appears as part of a series devoted to the best mystery short stories ever - the Golden Dozen - as chosen by a "panel of perfectionists" composed among others  of James Hilton, Howard Haycraft, John Dickson Carr, Anthony Boucher, Vincent Starrett, August Derleth, Viola Brothers Shore, Ellery Queen (of course) and James Sandoe. Queen's introduction provides us with both the official list of the "Lucky Twelve" and Sandoe's personal picks. Both lists overlap at times, but also bear some differences as we shall see.

The "official" Golden Dozen

The Hands of Mr. Ottermole (Thomas Burke)
The Purloined Letter (Edgar Allan Poe)
The Red-Headed League (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
The Avenging Chance (Anthony Berkeley)
The Absent-Minded Coterie (Robert Barr)
The Problem of Cell 13 (Jacques Futrelle)
The Oracle of the Dog (G.K. Chesterton)
Naboth's Vineyard (Melville Davisson Post)
James Sandoe
The Gioconda Smile (Aldous Huxley)
The Yellow Slugs (H.C. Bailey)
The Genuine Tabard (E.C. Bentley)
Suspicion (Dorothy L. Sayers)

James Sandoe's Golden Dozen

The Avenging Chance
The Hands of Mr. Ottermole
The Other Hangman (Carter Dickson)
The Red-Headed League
The Gioconda Smile
Sail (Lester Dent)
The Yellow Slugs
The Honour of Israel Gow (G.K. Chesterton)
Death on Pine Street (Dashiell Hammett)
The Man Who Murdered in Public (Roy Vickers)

To a modern reader the most striking features of both lists are the heavy bias towards traditional detective stories and the strong showing of now comparatively obscure plot-spinners like Post, Futrelle, Bailey or Bentley. Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and Cornell Woolrich are nowhere to be seen. Hardboiled, noir and psychological suspense despite their popularity at the time with the reading public don't seem to exist (though Sandoe departs by including two hardboiled stories in his list) 

This is not to say that their choices aren't good, for most of them are (don't get me started with Ottermole whose appeal I'll probably never understand) but they're typical of a mindset firmly stuck in the pre-WW2 years. A 2017 list would probably be more inclusive - but it would also lack most of the items listed here, which would be a pity. It would be interesting to know the other jurors's personal picks; I'm most curious as to Boucher's and of course Carr's (no risk of having him picking up a Chandler story!) 

What would be your own Golden Dozen? Feel free to post it in the comments section or on the blog's FB page - maybe I'll post mine if someone's interested. 


What's New? Futrelle!

You may remember this article years ago in which I bemoaned the then-current rise of the ebook and pledged everlasting love to the printed paper. Amazon and its Kindle would never conquer me, I swore. Time passed and, well, only fools never change their minds as the old French saying goes. I now have two Kindles and use them a lot, mostly to read those long-lost, most but not all public domain, mysteries that the ebook bubble suddenly brought back to light. I still cling to my paper books and they prevail every time I'm allowed to choose, but I would have missed a lot of amazing stuff had I stuck to my initial Luddite feeling.

One of those digital discoveries is Jacques Futrelle and his Thinking Machine stories. Rediscovery would be a better word as I already knew both the creator and his creature for having read a sample of their output via Roland Lacourbe's excellent French-language anthology Treize enquêtes de la Machine à Penser. They made a more than favorable impression upon me and I was eager for more, but alas those thirteen stories were all that was available in French at the time, and my English was not yet good enough to allow me to read Futrelle in the original language. Besides, most of his stories were out of print and not easily available. I moved on to other, more recent writers but kept an eye on Amazon and other purveyors in the hope that someone reprints the whole Van Dusen canon.

Fast forward fifteen years and nearly all of Futrelle's output is available for free or very cheap in the Kindle store. I bought a Thinking Machine megapack and started to read, one story at the time, a little afraid not to be able to recapture my initial enthusiasm. I needed not worry: the stories I had read were as good as I remembered them, and the other were for the most part very pleasant surprises.

What amazed me and still amazes me most is how well the stories have aged - probably because they were ahead of their time in many respects. The plots are imaginative and clever if sometimes far-fetched and play fair with the reader at a time when it was not yet a requirement. They also use a lot of misdirection, which is another unusual feature in pre-Trent detective fiction. This is not to say that Futrelle saw his stories as a duel of wits between him and the reader, but neither did he think of them as pure exercises in ratiocination - he was out to puzzle and fool, not just lay down a problem and then provide an explanation. 

Another modern feature of his work, perhaps the one that keeps it fresh after all those years, is the writing, which is much less stilted than that of his contemporaries, especially British ones. Being a journalist by trade Futrelle knew how to tell a gripping story with a few words and without excessive flourish. This kind of writing, which John Dickson Carr would call "journalese", would become a distinctive feature of the American school of crime fiction, regardless of the subgenre and may have been a leading factor in its global success and influence on the long run. 

Finally there is the Thinking Machine, Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen himself. Futrelle may have created him partly with his tongue in his cheek, as Van Dusen like Poirot later exhibits some physical features (the size and shape of his head in particular) that were bigger than life even then. Still, he is a memorable character and one of the best detectives of his time. Modern readers may find him unlikeable, but so were many of his colleagues at the time - readers then didn't seek to relate to a fictional detective but to be awed by him, and Van Dusen certainly delivers in that department. It is interesting to compare him with the other great detective scientist of the time, Freeman's Dr. Thorndyke - both share an encyclopaedic knowledge and near-universal expertise but Van Dusen has a more abrasive temper and speaks in a much less ornate way. Also, Van Dusen tend to rely less on arcane knowledge than Thorndyke's. 

The only serious problem with Futrelle, and one he sadly couldn't fix, is that he died too soon to reach his full potential. Had he not embarked on the Titanic he might have gone to even greater things and maybe dramatically hastened the evolution of American crime fiction. Be that as it may, he remains of those few writers who gave its country a distinctive voice at a time when most of his fellow-compatriots contended themselves with channeling Conan Doyle. 


MBE contre JDC

Les prénoms et nom de Maurice-Bernard Endrèbe ne disent plus grand-chose aujourd'hui qu'aux polardeux fondamentalistes tels que votre serviteur, mais il fut pendant plusieurs décennies l'un des piliers du roman policier français, en tant qu'auteur, critique, traducteur? éditeur et fondateur du Grand Prix de Littérature Policière.  Il fut à son époque et demeure encore à ce jour ce qui se rapproche le plus d'un Anthony Boucher français et sa contribution ne doit pas être négligée: on lui doit au moins un chef-d'oeuvre incontesté (La Pire des choses) et il a traduit, popularisé et défendu nombre d'auteurs majeurs du genre - même s'il n'hésitait pas à retoquer/abréger/réécrire quand il le jugeait nécessaire, comme cela se faisait couramment en ces temps moins éclairés. Son dévouement sans faille et à contre-courant au roman d'énigme est également digne d'éloge. Il avait pourtant ses limites et surtout ses têtes. Il fut ainsi l'un des nombreux critiques français à "casser" du Ross MacDonald ce qui ne laisse pas de surprendre tant cet auteur est de tous les grands du "noir" le plus à même de séduire les tenants d'un classicisme strict. Une autre de ses têtes de turc, plus surprenante encore, était John Dickson Carr et c'est ce le sujet de ce post. Endrèbe traduisit plusieurs de ses livres, dont le célèbre (chez nous) La Chambre ardente, mais en bon français cartésien ne goûtait guère la veine plus... imaginative de l'auteur. J'avais cité dans un article de la version MSN de Mayhem Parva (disparue depuis) une recension par lui et Georges Rieben du Meurtre des Mille et une nuits où tous deux qualifiaient le livre d'absurde et regrettaient que le traducteur ne l'ait pas coupé de moitié; j'aurais pu citer également si j'en avais eu connaissance à l'époque la diatribe suivante que l'on trouve dans le courrier des lecteurs du numéro 32 de Mystère Magazine, Endrèbe répondant à un lecteur qui avait eu le front de considérer que les romans policiers anglo-saxons de l'époque étaient supérieurs à ce qui se faisait alors en France:

"Je passe à la lettre de M. Bruni et je suis obligé de protester quand il écrit que même les moins bons romans de Dickson Carr sont infiniment supérieurs à ceux de Pierre Boileau. J'en appelle à tous vos lecteurs: est-ce que Le Repos de Bacchus et Six crimes sans assassin ne valent pas vingt fois mieux que La Flèche peinte (sic), La Maison de la Peste, La Maison de la Terreur, Suicide à l'écossaise ou L'Habit fait le moine? Enfin, comme je ne traduis que des livres sélectionnés par moi - et il m'en faut bien lire vingt pour en trouver un bon - votre correspondant me rendrait un fier service en m'indiquant ceux auxquels il fait allusion dans son dernier paragraphe, mais s'il s'agit de The Blind Barber, It Walks by Night ou The Unicorn Murders de Dickson Carr, non merci!"

On s'amusera soixante ans plus tard de ce que les livres de Carr que Endrèbe considère comme des repoussoirs soient considérés par les spécialistes comme comptant parmi les chefs-d'oeuvre de leur auteur, alors que ceux qu'il estima dignes d'être traduits par lui sont (Chambre ardente excepté) relativement mineurs. Et osera-t-on dire que les livres de Boileau qu'il encense pâlissent un peu en regard du point de vue de l'astuce et de l'imagination? C'est après tout cohérent de la part de quelqu'un qui dans la même lettre considère que Noël Vindry n'a jamais écrit de véritable grand livre ou que Je ne suis pas coupable de Christie est un roman "faible", inférieur à Meurtre au champagne. La règle étant de ne jamais médire des morts, seul le silence s'impose - mais je serais curieux de savoir si M. Bruni ou quelque autre fan de Carr s'est manifesté pour défendre l'honneur du Maître de Mamaroneck. 

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