Hmmm…this is a tough one! I read all three
of Barnard’s most recent books – A Cry From
the Dark, The Graveyard Position and Dying Flames
(well actually there’s a more recent one A Fall From
Grace but its only just out). Why tough? Because
Barnard simply defies categorization. He is unique.
When you look at the web-sites you see that they
can’t even agree what is a series novel and what
isn’t. Charlie Peace appears in The Graveyard Appearance
but it is not listed, perhaps rightly, in Fantastic Fiction as
belonging to the Peace series. Nor is A Fall From Grace,
though in Wikipedia it does.

When his publishers (out-of-date) site writes that he is
‘a writer of great versatility’ they are underestimating
matters. This great versatility is unusual in mystery fiction
of whatever era. It is true of Margery Allingham. But
I can’t think of many others – Hill is a writer of versatility,
so to some extent is Rendell, even Christie in a way. But
the complete variation which Barnard and Allingham have –
no. You just don’t know when you start the book what
on earth its tone, subject, setting anything will be. I have
absolutely no doubt that this is the reason Barnard is the
most underrated Britmyst writer, certainly alive and most
probably ever. It is unsettling. You might go looking for
one of his glorious comedies and come upon some
dark psychological book. Or any point in-between. These
three are a case in point. A Cry From The Dark is a dark book –
its solution is bleak but ending hopeful. The Graveyard Position is far
funnier – though the humour is black.
Even plot summaries are well nigh impossible because they
tend to give the wrong impression.

In order to check that this is not just some personal
deficiency (well it is partly but I hope not totally) I have been checking
the reviews of The Graveyard Position which can be found at…

http://www.gregoryandcompany.co.uk/pages/authors/reviews.asp?AuthorID=3&TitleID=281

one talks of a ‘clever, fair-play plot’, one of ‘tension, mystery and dark
family secrets’
by a ‘master of psychological crime’, one of the ‘authors dry
understatement and wit’ and yet another of the ‘recesses
of family dysfunction’. You would not think they were
discussing the same book.

What one can say is that all the books are brilliantly written.
Barnard can achieve any effect he wants with effortless
ease. And I get the sense from all of them that he now
writes mainly to please himself – to explore themes and
issues which interest him. Another thing that they have in
common is that they are all to a greater or lesser extent
stories in which older people uncover the secrets of their
own past and reach some kind of resolution – they all
to a greater or lesser degree have ‘happy endings’ (though
the description is facile).

A pretty hopeless set of reviews! All for me are fine Barnards
(there are inevitably some duffers among the 40 or so
books he has written since 1977) – if I had to single one
out it would be A Cry From The Dark but I suspect any three
readers would have a different favourite.

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