Thursday, February 10, 2011

Unlikely Mystery Fan #3: Robert Graves.

Part of a series on unexpected individuals who enjoy or enjoyed mystery-related works and authors.

Poet-author Robert Graves (I, Claudius; Good-bye to All That, etc.), wrote "After a Century, Will Anyone Care Whodunit?", which appeared in the August 15, 1957, New York Times.  In it, Graves prognosticated on which 20th-century "crime-and-detection thriller" authors will be taught in the 21st century, with quite emphatic likes and dislikes.

The mystery writers he liked:

Erle Stanley Gardner. "As a former practicing attorney he can be trusted not to cheat . . . the legal situation is always novel and fascinating."

Dashiell Hammett, "The Cleansing of Personville"/Red Harvest. "He writes a good practical English."

Selwyn Jepson (author of Man Running, adapted by Hitchcock as Stage Fright, 1950, and uncle of writer Fay Weldon). "A refreshing exception."

Georges Simenon. "a law to himself . . . his diversity and brilliance put most of his rivals to shame."

The mystery writers he dissed:

E. C. Bentley. "flat-footed."

Raymond Chandler. "...I would succumb more often to his ingenious impostures, if the style were not so sadly meretricious..."

G. K. Chesterton. "self-satisfied criminologist . . .a jolly Catholic priest."

Agatha Christie. "... nobody could promise Agatha immortality as a novelist." (never mind that Christie dedicated a book to him) 

• Edgar Allan Poe. "...Heaven knows why nobody in Paris caught sight of the ape [from "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"] during all that excitement, though it was wandering paw-loose for days and must have felt pretty hungry and thirsty."

Dorothy L. Sayers.  "Dorothy Sayers . . . will . . . sink without a trace; she clearly has no belief in her outrageous drawing-room charades..."

Graves's crystal ball seems to have been cloudy, given how seriously he missed the mark on Chandler, Christie, and Sayers, and Jepson is hardly a household name in the present day.

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