Diamond Daggers

Stephen Wall

  • Death’s Darkest Face by Julian Symons
    Macmillan, 272 pp, £12.95, May 1990, ISBN 0 333 51783 0
  • Vendetta by Michael Dibdin
    Faber, 281 pp, £12.99, June 1990, ISBN 0 571 14332 6
  • Gallowglass by Barbara Vine
    Viking, 296 pp, £13.99, March 1990, ISBN 0 670 83241 3

Death’s Darkest Face is Julian Symons’s 27th crime story, and its appearance coincides with an award (the Diamond Dagger) for his long service to the genre. This isn’t quite enough for his publishers, keen to promote the book as a proper novel rather than another addition, however distinguished, to their crime list. The implied claim that, despite the format, it’s serious stuff not only revives old and no doubt perennial problems about how to take this sort of fiction, but also echoes the author’s concluding comment that, in this case, he’s been less interested in puzzle than personality. There’s some disingenuousness here, since the mystery is quite elaborately contrived and its solution, or solutions, artfully withheld. All the same, the appeal of Death’s Darkest Face goes well beyond eventually finding out how the crime actually happened and who done it.

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