Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 518
Symons, Julian 1912–
British mystery writer, and critic, essayist, and poet.
The … Symons novel, The Man Who Killed Himself …, is very nearly his best. It offers a delightful picture of an oppressed Walter Mitty who manages to achieve some of his dreams by creating an alternate self; it goes on to utilize this situation in plotting a nobly ingenious "perfect crime"; and it even manages to shift successfully to a more serious tone in the aftermath of murder. Only the author's resort to a rather conventional and facile ending, more suited to a short-short than to a novel, keeps this highly enjoyable book from classic status.
Anthony Boucher, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1967 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 14, 1967.
The Man Whose Dreams Came True … [is an] absolutely brilliant piece of work, lacking nothing in the way of plotting, characterization, or style, yet keeping all these things under the strictest control. The convolutions of the exquisitely conceived, slyly cynical tale make it a genuine can't-put-down item; and the cast includes a wonderfully dogged aging detective and an absolute bounder whom you can't help liking through it all. A marvelous book.
Clifford A. Ridley, in National Observer, January 5, 1970.
Thank heaven for Julian Symons. He is one of the few truly professional crime writers of the day who do not content themselves with merely entertaining, with merely purveying wish-fulfilment or timepassing puzzles. His books have always the rebarbative surface of warts-and-all truthfulness, and he has a cold, perceptive, but not entirely unforgiving, eye for human frailty. You will look in vain in his works for an unmitigated Goodie, perhaps because nature herself seems better at unmitigated Baddies than she is at unmixed virtue. No-one in The Players and the Game is very nice, and the sexual and other deviations underlying pleasant suburban living and rather tougher business machinations exist not for titillation of the reader, but to set the tone of the problem and to render possible the treatment of this essay in horror as a puzzle in detection. The basic idea of the book stems from the apalling Moors Murders, and we are allowed glimpses of the mentality, the megalomania and the functional disturbances that make torture as a hobby possible to outwardly decent human beings. The concentration camp bully and the samll boy cat tormentor perhaps deserve understanding, but repel mercy. The strains of nastiness in many of the personages exist therefore partly as an aspect of Truth, but also for the purely technical reason that the book is constructed as a puzzle, with Clues, so that as we read of the terrible deeds through the eyes of their perpetrator and meet all the suspects we can find it possible to believe that any of them—the Managing Director, the Tennis Club members, the wives and girl-friends—could be the Guilty Party. So you have the true Crime Novel, as prescribed, with Nietzsche, folie à deux sadism and satire, suburban sex and sound police work. A memorable addition to the catalogue of Symons's many-sided talent.
Leo Harris, in Books and Bookmen, October, 1972, pp. 81-2.
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