More Snobbery With Violence
It's not history because Watson avoids examples that might create difficulties for his thesis. As English crime fiction grew unavoidably popular in its Golden Age between 1920 and 1939, Watson writes, "Book reviewers settled into an attitude of good-natured, if slightly supercilious tolerance." Such reviewers' "slightly facetious style," he says, "revealed singularly little about the books and although in most cases this was a blessing for their authors, the rare novel of quality was likely to suffer the injustice of exactly similar treatment simply because it happened to treat of crime. Librarians unwittingly performed a like disservice to the few writers in the field who believed that if a book of any kind was worth writing it was worth writing well."
You can guess what's coming, can't you? Watson fails to name any such "rare novel of quality" or any of the few writers who wrote them. He does cite Raymond Chandler, who "never produced a dull line," but for his observations about crime writing and English writers (Chandler, though American, was educated at Dulwich College) rather than as an author in his own right.
Without counterexamples of such rare crime novels by rare good writers, Watson can come off as a bit of a scold, albeit an entertaining one. But the funniest and most telling line, at least in the book's first half, is probably Chandler's, from "The Simple Art of Murder": "The average detective story is probably no worse than the average novel, but you never see the average novel. It doesn't get published."
© Peter Rozovsky 2007