A literary critic and academic scholar, Robert Barnard is recognized as one of the leading practitioners of the pure detective story. As a mystery writer, he works within the classic tradition and is often said to have inherited Agatha Christie’s mantle, for like her, he writes of murder among everyday people and often uses conventional plotting devices. His works, however, unlike Christie’s, are often humorous and filled with social satire. Barnard’s novels follow the customary plot progression from buildup, to crime, to investigation by police, to solution; however, Barnard experiments, sometimes using a first-person narrator or offering several narrators’ points of view. His settings are not the street corner, the gang, the brothel, or even the police station. Rather, he centers his novels at opera houses, local pubs, writers’ conventions, English villages, universities, parishes, and theaters.
Barnard has been well received in Great Britain, although he acknowledges that it was his American audience that enabled him to leave his professorship in Norway in 1983 to return to England and become a full-time writer. Barnard suggests that fellow mystery writers remember their purpose, noting, “I write only to entertain.” Also, he advises them to cherish the conventions, and, in general, to seek not to spoil the recipe of this popular genre.