W. J. Burley Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

When W. J. Burley’s Detective Superintendent Wycliffe reflects on how the study of the human species is far more engaging than the study of animals, he speaks for the author as well. Before Burley turned to writing mysteries past the age of fifty, he was a professionally trained zoologist. His novels are studies of human psychology and sociology, particularly of the inhabitants of small towns. Wycliffe is an engaging but not fully developed character who acts as the means through which readers encounters a range of interesting personalities and situations. The strength of the novels is in the local color Burley evokes and in his strong characterizations of the people Wycliffe observes. Though Burley—long a member but not a participant in the Crime Writers’ Association—won no major awards for his writing, he was honored in a more tangible way by having his Wycliffe series dramatized on television. The popular broadcasts (more numerous than his books) not only provided considerable wherewithal to the author but also introduced his work to a large audience.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Berlins, Marcel. The Times, April 18, 1998, p. 3. This discussion about the state of the crime novel notes the trend toward ultrarealism, and the financial success of authors whose works are successfully portrayed on television, including Burley.

Burley, W. J. WJBurley.com: Celebrating a Unique Author. http://wjburley.com. Web site devoted to Burley. Contains a biography, information about his novels, the television series, and how he wrote novels.

Crossley, Jack. “A Policeman’s Unhappy Lot.” The Times, July 30, 1994. Brief profile of Burley looks at his motivation for writing and his love of Cornwall.

Fletcher, Connie. “Mysteries.” Review of Wycliffe and the Pea-Green Boat, by W. J. Burley. Booklist 72, no. 8 (December 15, 1975): 551. This is a favorable review, which cites the skill of the author in using the past to explain present circumstances.

Hanson, Gillian Mary. City and Shore: The Function of Setting in the British Mystery. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004. Looks at many major British novelists and their works in which setting was important. Sheds light on how Burley’s fellow writers used setting, which was important to Burley.

Hubin, Allen J. “Criminals at Large.” Death in Willow Pattern, by W. J. Burley. The New York Times, April 19, 1970, p. 37. Contains a favorable review in which Burley’s lesser known protagonist Dr. Henry Pym, zoologist and sleuth, is invited to examine a wealthy nobleman’s valuable family library during Christmas holiday and incidentally to investigate charges that the nobleman has been writing a series of poison-pen letters.

Pronzini, Bill, and Marcia Muller, eds. 1001 Midnights: The Aficionado’s Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction. New York: Arbor House, 1986. Contains a brief analysis of Burley’s Wycliffe and the Scapegoat by Pronzini and Newell Dunlap, which—through praising the colorful setting (an ancient All Hallow’s Eve ritual in a small English town that involves a wheel of fire), and the well-drawn characters—pans the author’s lack of flair and the book’s pedestrian solution.

Publishers Weekly. Review of Wycliffe and the Quiet Virgin, by W. J. Burley. 230, no. 14 (October 3, 1986): 98. Contains an unfavorable review. Praises the author’s occasional evocative descriptions of the Cornish country but criticizes the novel’s formulaic plot, somewhat plodding style, and its easily solved puzzle.