Robert Barnard is one of my all-time favorite mystery writers. In case you’re not familiar with his books, here’s a brief description, adapted from an essay by Marie J. K. Brenner in Critical Survey of Mystery and Detective Fiction, Revised Edition © 2008 by Salem Press, Inc.
Robert Barnard (eight-time Edgar nominee, winner of the Anthony, Agatha, Macavity, and Nero Wolfe awards, and recipient of the Crime Writers Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement) is often said to have inherited Agatha Christie’s mantle. Like Christie, Barnard sets his mysteries mostly in cozy, comfortable settings – academic halls, arts festivals, theaters, and gossipy English villages chock-a-block with tea cozies, lawn fêtes, rectors, and constables. Unlike Christie, however, Barnard’s books are wickedly humorous and filled with social satire.
Although Barnard admires Christie’s meticulous approach to plotting, citing her as a genius in the “double-bluff” method and its skillful use of red herrings, plots in his novels (as in those of Charles Dickens, whom he also admires) are often secondary. Instead, Barnard focuses on the creation of characters, many of whom are originals and quite memorable. Barnard asserts that he is “always pinching things” from Dickens, and he provides an amusing variety of clerical types, a caricature of an American scholar, an aging actress, and even an obscure member of the royal household.
Plot and characters aside, it is Barnard’s style that is often the strongest feature of his novels. He writes with humor, sometimes gentle and light, sometimes biting and satirical. He also has a wonderful ear for dialogue – conversations in his books are always as lively as possible.
Barnard says, “I write only to entertain,” and in this he succeeds magnificently. His books provide readers with mysteries that surprise, amuse, and delight.