Category Archives: Julian Symons

Stars on TV Screens*

You see them on TV all the time. You may even feel that you know them, they’re that familiar. Yes, I’m talking about TV presenters. They may host a quiz or celebrity show, or they may host some other sort of show. Either way, they’re a part of our lives.

They may seem to live charmed lives, but TV presenters are humans, as we all are. And they work in what can be very highly-charged, tense atmosphere. So, it’s not surprising that they also show up in crime fiction. After all, where would we be without those shows and their hosts?

In Julian Symons’ A Three-Pipe Problem, we are introduced to television star Sheridan ‘Sher’ Haynes. He is the lead in a popular Sherlock Holmes series, with Basil Wainwright as his Watson. Although Haynes is a popular television personality, the show has been slipping in ratings. What’s more, Haynes has his share of problems with the show. He is a dedicated fan of the Holmes stories, and isn’t happy at all with the changes that the show’s creators have made to the stories and some of the major characters. Then, Haynes gets an idea to save the series and show that his more purist view of the show will prevail. There’s been a series of bizarre murders, called the ‘Karate Killings.’  The police haven’t made much progress, but Haynes thinks that if he uses Holmes’ method, he can find out who the killer is. It’s a strange idea, and plenty of people in Haynes’ life are not happy about it. But he persists and starts to ask questions. He gets into his share of trouble, but in the end, he finds out the truth.

In Catherine O’Flynn’s The News Where You Are, we meet TV presenter Frank Allcroft. As the novel begins, he’s at rather a crossroads in his life. He’s doing well at his show, he’s happy with his wife, and a proud father. But he doesn’t feel settled. He’s also dealing with the death of his predecessor, friend, and colleague, Phil Smedway. It seems that Smedway was jogging one morning when he was killed in a hit-and-run incident. In his restlessness, Allcroft is drawn to the scene of Smedway’s death. He notices some things that make him wonder. For one thing, the road is straight and clear. For another, the weather on the day of Smedway’s death was dry. There’s no reason a driver wouldn’t have been able to swerve to avoid hitting Smedway. Now, Allcroft begins to wonder what really happened. Among other things, the novel gives real insight into what it’s like to be a TV presenter.

Christopher Fowler’s Ten Second Staircase features London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU). Arthur Bryant and John May and the rest of the PCU investigate a bizarre set of murders. It seems that someone is targeting minor celebrities and seems to be doing it to become a star himself. One of those the killer targets is Danny Martell, the host of a popular ITV teen lifestyle show. He’s in the gym one day, trying to work off some stress and lose a bit of weight when he’s mysteriously electrocuted. It’s a strange set of crimes, and the PCU team has its hands full as it tries to make sense of the only clear clue: an eyewitness who says the killer was wearing a cape and a tricorner hat.

Lynda Wilcox’s Strictly Murder is the first of her novels to feature Verity Long. She is research assistant to famous crime novelist Kathleen ‘KD’ Davenport. Mostly, her job is to research old crime cases that Davenport can use as the basis for her work. Long gets involved in her own murder case when she decides to look for a new home. A house agent is showing her a place when she discovers the body of celebrity TV presenter Jaynee ‘JayJay’ Johnson. Since Long found the body, she’s of interest to the police, and she gets involved in finding out who killed the victim. And it turns out that there are several suspects. The behind-the-scenes atmosphere wasn’t at all pleasant, since Johnson wasn’t exactly beloved among her colleagues.

And then there’s Hannah Dennison’s Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford. She was a successful TV presenter who hosted a show called Fakes & Treasures. But she got ‘burned out’ from the stress of being in the media limelight. Her plan had been to open an antiques business with her mother, but everything changes in Murder at Honeychurch Hall. In that novel, Stanford discovers that her mother has abruptly moved to the Devon village of Little Dipperton. Shocked at her mother’s choice, Stanford rushes there, only to find that her mother’s been injured in a minor car accident. She stays on to help while her mother heals up and gets drawn into a murder mystery.

Television presenters may seem to lead magical lives, but things don’t always go very smoothly. Those conflicts and stresses can make things difficult for the presenter, but they can add much to a crime novel. These are just a few examples. I know you’ll think of more.


*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Kyte.


Filed under Catherine O'Flynn, Christopher Fowler, Hannah Dennison, Julian Symons, Lynda Wilcox

Everybody in the World Likes Chocolate*

Recently, FictionFan, at FictionFan’s Book Reviews, conducted an interesting scientific study of chocolate. Using the My Life in Books meme from Adam at Roof Beam Reader, Fiction Fan compared two sets of data. One set, collected before eating any chocolate, was an initial list of responses to the My Life in Books prompts. Then, FictionFan provided answers to the same prompts after eating chocolate. As you can clearly see from FictionFan’s answers, there was a definite positive effect of chocolate on mood.

Of course, any study ought to be replicated, if possible, in order to lend support to the results. So, I decided to do just that. Like FictionFan, I collected two sets of data: one was collected before eating chocolate, and the other after. My own data is presented below:



Before Chocolate

After Chocolate

In high school, I was:

Among Thieves

In Like Flynn

People might be surprised (by):

The Colaba Conspiracy

[What] Harriet Said

I will never be:


Wife of the Gods

My fantasy job is:


An Easy Thing

At the end of a long day, I need:

Burial Rites

A Jarful of Angels

I hate it when:

Days are Like Grass

Not a Creature Was [is] Stirring

Wish I had:

The Frozen Shroud


My family reunions are:

Murder and Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall

Above Suspicion

At a party, you’d find me with:

The Hidden Man

Ruby and the Blue Sky

I’ve never been to:

The Cemetery of Swallows

China Lake

A happy day includes:

Dead Lemons

Crystal Ball Persuasion

Motto I live by:

Can Anybody Help Me?

Happiness is Easy

On my bucket list is:

Talking to the Dead

The Dawn Patrol

In my next life, I want to have:

A Moment’s Silence

A Three-Pipe Problem


As you can see, chocolate also had a positive effect on my mood. Now, of course, this study is limited, as all studies are. For one thing, I made use of Belgian chocolates for this research. Other sources and types of chocolates would have to be studied to really confirm the hypothesis that chocolate enhances one’s mood. For another thing, FictionFan’s data and mine are only two iterations of this study. More researchers would be needed, to rule out effects based on any similarities between me and FictionFan (I mean, we are both crime fiction readers, etc..). There are other limitations, too, as any academician can tell you.

That said, though, I think it’s safe to say that this study certainly lends support to FictionFan’s conclusion that chocolate has mood-enhancing effects. Anyone else care to take part in this all-important research?

Thanks, FictionFan, for your groundbreaking study!


NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Soul Control’s Chocolate (Choco Choco).


Filed under Babs Horton, Beryl Bainbridge, Christopher Abbey, Don Winslow, Edney Silvestre, Finn Bell, Gordon Ell, Hannah Dennison, Hannah Kent, Harry Bingham, Jane Haddam, Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol, John Clarkson, Julian Symons, Katherine Dewar, Kwei Quartey, Lynda La Plante, Meg Gardiner, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Rhys Bowen, Robin Blake, Sinéad Crowley, Stark Holborn, Sue Younger, Surender Mohan Pathak, Zoran Drvenkar

In The Spotlight: Julian Symons’ A Three-Pipe Problem

SpotlightHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. There’ve been many, many follow-ons, pastiches, and other homages to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Some of them have worked very well, and others have been less well regarded. Either way, it certainly says something, both for the character and his creator, that the Sherlock Holmes theme is still so popular. Let’s take a look at one such homage today, and turn the spotlight on Julian Symon’s A Three-Pipe Problem. I’d say it’s about time this feature included one of Symon’s works, anyway…

The novel begins (appropriately enough, considering when this is posted) on New Year’s Eve. Charles Pole is murdered by, oddly enough, what looks like strange sort of karate chop. Chief Superintendent Roger Devenish begins to investigate, and right way, runs into problems. First, Pole seems to have had no enemies. So there seems no reason why anyone should want to kill him. Even a careful ‘vetting’ of his widow doesn’t help. Then, there’s another, similar murder. Sir Pountney Gladson, MP, is the victim this time. He’s a more likely candidate to be a victim; even so, there doesn’t seem to be a really likely suspect. Then there’s a third murder: Sonny Halliwell, who runs a pornography bookshop. The victims didn’t know each other, and there doesn’t seem to be a link among them. But Devenish knows there must be something, and digs into the case. One possibility is that there are rival criminal gangs at work, since Halliwell was connected with one of them. But there are other leads, too.

In the meantime, we meet TV actor Sheridan ‘Sher’ Haynes. He’s the star of a popular Sherlock Holmes series, with Basil Wainwright as his Watson. The show’s been slipping in the ratings lately, and there is talk that it may not run for another series. And Haynes has his own problems with the way the show is done. He is a dedicated, thoroughly knowledgeable admirer of Conan Doyle and the Holmes stories, and knows the canon very well. And that’s just the trouble. The show’s creators have made several changes to the characters and stories, and Haynes isn’t happy with anything that takes away from the original stories. In fact, he causes enough problems on the set that he’s warned the show could end very soon if he doesn’t cooperate.

Haynes, like many other people, has read about the murders dubbed ‘The Karate Killings.’ He comes to believe that if he can use Sherlock Holmes’ methods, he can solve the killings. Not only will this bring the murderer to justice; it’ll also prove the worth of Sherlock Holmes, and keep the show running. Since Haynes is a star, the things he says make it into the news, and it’s soon well-known that he intends the solve the crimes.

For his part, Devenish doesn’t like amateurs trying to do a professional’s job. It only makes the work harder. But, he admits that there’s nothing preventing Haynes from trying to find out the truth. And, as time goes on, he also admits that the police would be glad of genuinely helpful information.

Not everyone’s delighted that Haynes is getting involved, though. For one thing, his wife, Val, believes he’s gone round the proverbial bend. And there are some people who think Haynes is getting much closer to the truth than they want. In the end, though, Haynes and Devenish find out who is behind the killings.

This is, as I say, an homage to Sherlock Holmes. It’s not a silly send-up or even a pastiche, really. The story is told in part from Haynes’ perspective (third person, past tense) and in part from Devenish’s. So, we learn quite a bit about both characters. Haynes is deeply devoted to the Holmes stories – even going so far as to live in Baker Street. He wishes he could live in Victorian times; in fact, he has nothing but contempt for cars and other aspects of modern life. And he really does try to use Holmes’ methods, and what he’s gleaned from the Holmes stories, to solve the murders. Despite the concerns raised by a few characters in the novel, he doesn’t believe he’s Sherlock Holmes. Rather, he has a reverence for the character he plays on television. And I can say without spoiling the story that he does use those methods to good effect.

Devenish is a practical, pragmatic copper. He knows that sometimes, you have to make deals with criminals, and work with them in order to catch the worst offenders. For instance, in one plot thread of the novel, he’s trying to prevent a gang war between two groups of criminals. In fact, he thinks one of the murders had something to do with this rivalry. So, he finds a very clever way to get them to declare a cease-fire, if not actually a truce. He’s happily married, and although he enjoys a drink, he doesn’t find solace in the bottom of a bottle. And he and Haynes develop a genuine respect for each other.

The novel is set in 1975 London, and Symons places the reader there distinctly. As the different plot threads play out, we follow Haynes and Devenish around different parts of the city. And we also get a sense of the culture of the times. On the one hand, there’s a lot of open marriage and other sexual experimentation. And there’s open (if not always exactly enlightened) discussion of homosexuality. On the other, there are blatant, very ugly, racist and sexist comments. They reflect the views of the times, but readers who are offended by such remarks will notice them.

The book isn’t meant to be a comic send-up, but there are some witty remarks and funny moments. That said, though, it’s done, if I can put it this way, with great respect for Holmes and Conan Doyle. And readers who dislike a lot of violence will be glad to know that there isn’t a great deal of ‘on stage’ violence in this book.

A Three-Pipe Problem is a quintessentially London murder mystery, with a special devotion to the way Holmes would have gone about solving crimes. It features a sleuth who wants to show just how good a sleuth Holmes really was, and another sleuth who just wants to make the city safe for ‘regular’ people like his family. But what’s your view? Have you read A Three-Pipe Problem? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday, 9 January/Tuesday, 10 January – Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

Monday, 16 January/Tuesday, 17 January – An Easy Thing – Paco Ignacio Taibo II

Monday, 23 January/Tuesday, 24 January – What Remains Behind – Dorothy Fowler


Filed under A Three-Pipe Problem, Julian Symons

>Play the Game, Everybody Play the Game*

>I admit it; I was intrigued by the wonderful contribution of Dorte at DJ’s Krimiblog and the excellent contribution of Bernadette at Reactions to Reading to the My Life As A Book community meme. I decided I couldn’t resist participating myself, so here is the truth? about me by crime fiction title:

In high school I was: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson) (OK, not really ;) )

People might be surprised I’m: The Perfectionist (Helen Nielsen)

I will never be: The Snack Thief (Andrea Camilleri)

My fantasy job is: Queenpin (Megan Abbott)

At the end of a long day I need: A Place of Safety (Caroline Graham)

I hate it when: A Murder is Announced (Agatha Christie) – um, unless it’s fictional ; )

Wish I had: Blue Shoes and Happiness (Alexander McCall Smith)

My family reunions are: After Twenty Years (O. Henry)

At a party you’d find me with: People of Darkness (Tony Hillerman)

I’ve never been to: The Cipher Garden (Martin Edwards)

A happy day includes: The Chocolate Box (Agatha Christie)

Motto I live by: Don’t Look Behind You (Frederic Brown)

On my bucket list: Castle in Spain (Julian Symons)

In my next life, I want to be: Well-Schooled in Murder (Elizabeth George) ; )

So there you have it! What about you? Wanna play the game? C’mon – it’s fun!

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Queen’s The Game.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander M. Smith, Andrea Camilleri, Caroline Graham, Elizabeth George, Frederic Brown, Helen Nielsen, Julian Symons, Martin Edwards, Megan Abbott, Stieg Larsson, Tony Hillerman