It has been quite a while since I have read a novel by Symons and even then I have only read the one, A Three Pipe Problem (1975). I am more familiar with Symons’ Bloody Murder (1972), an important history of detective fiction, though I don’t agree with all of Symons’ ideas.
I have to be honest I didn’t make it to the end of this book. A review on the back of the book indicates that at some point in the book the protagonist, Anthony Scott-Williams ends up in a ‘murder conspiracy’ which ‘beautifully back-fires.’ All I can say is that by the half way mark this hasn’t happened and that the first half did not make me interested in getting to that point. Great reads, especially in crime fiction can have brilliant destinations, ending in a shocking and surprising way. But great reads regardless of genre are also about the journey the story takes you on and in the case of this novel the journey is nothing to write home about. The book opens reasonably well with Anthony coming across as version of Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, with both characters having a strong desire for money and a luxurious lifestyle and above all getting these things without conventional hard work and elbow grease. Although with Tom I think there is more going on in his character makeup than just greed, which I think makes up the majority of Anthony’s personality and colours his actions. The Man Whose Dreams Came True (1968) seems to be quite episodic in nature, watching Anthony move from place to place, job to job etc. and unlike Tom, there is no meteoric rise in Anthony’s success rates, which may be due to bad luck or the fact that Tom is more intelligent. Where I left the story was when Anthony is once more in an ill-advised relationship and is wondering how he will pay off his gambling debts. My exit from the book came about as quite frankly I was just bored with the characters, the milieu and the pace and I had lost any interest in the promised and no doubt forthcoming narrative twists centring on a murder conspiracy. Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley (1955) is by no means a favourite read of mine but in reading Symons’ book, which I think does borrow from Highsmith’s earlier novel, I came to see the stronger writing skills Highsmith had. In particular I felt Highsmith’s characterisation skills were far superior, especially with her protagonist, Tom Ripley and the way he attempts to interact with others. In contrast character psychology is not really a key feature of Symons’ work and it is hard to take an interest in or care about Anthony. Symons’ tries to make Anthony a more complex character by bringing in information about his childhood and upbringing, but in reality these passages are dull and kill the pace of the book. Moreover, rather than adding complexity to Anthony as a character, they just make him feel more two dimensional and predictable.
So apologies for the truncated review. I’d be interested to know of other people’s experiences with Symons’ work. Are there some really good ones out there? Or perhaps it is just the case that Symons is just not for me.