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Author of the Month

Name: Robert Barnard

First Novel: Scandal in Belgravia

Most Recent Book: Last Post

'Last Post is, ultimately, a novel about the misplaced illusion of happy family life.'

Synopsis:
May McNabb was a local schoolmistress, a pillar of the community. Soon after her swift demise from cancer, Maryís daughter, Eve, is sorting out the many condolence cards when she comes across a letter addressed to her mother. Intrigued, the letter has a smudged postmark and the letter has no address and is simply signed off with the name, ĎJeaní. The letter alludes to a lesbian love affair that happened many years before. This startling new fact surprises Eve as she never believed her mother had any latent feelings towards any other women in her life.

Soon Eve is investigating that side of her motherís life and trying to find out who Jean is and what part she played in her motherís life. It is then that she begins to find out information about her deceased father who vanished when she was three years old. Did May and Jean have a part in his downfall? Why did he suddenly disappear all those years ago? Soon Eve is beginning to see the real family she was part of and the roles some outsiders have played whilst wanting a more important role in May McNabbís life...

Review:
Last Post is a smart little puzzle that comes from the pen of the prolific Diamond Dagger Award winner. Barnard has put together a mystery that does not contain car chases or worries about the scientific minutiae upon which a crime may be solved. Instead Barnard writes about people. Small, insignificant people who find that life isnít as clear cut as they thought it was. He seems to be fascinated by families and what they put on for show. At the same time he seems rather excited by what they are able to hide.

Last Post is about the destruction that can be wrought by the insiders and outsiders of any seemingly normal marriage; about the lies that can be cast in a momentís whim, but can be set in stone for decades. Even as Eve begins to find out that all was not harmonious in her parentsí marriage, she embarks on an affair with a married man allowing the author to cleverly show us that these things go in cycles and will always be ongoing - ad infinitum.

Eve McNabb isnít the easiest woman to warm to and can appear quite calculating - as her mother also seems to be at different points throughout the book. Thankfully, Eveís story seems to be headed for a far better ending than her motherís. The lesbian sub-plot within the book is dealt with sensitivity and not simply as a device. The author shows us that even as late as the seventies, being gay was still frowned upon and, despite the leaps and bounds in understanding and tolerance, there are still pockets of society today who have not moved on.

Last Post is, ultimately, a novel about the misplaced illusion of happy family life. It is another pearl, joining the long string of pearls that are Barnardís impressive catalogue of novels that have made him one of Britainís best loved and most cherished authors. Barnard is a monumental figure in crime fiction, one that should be preserved at all cost. In short, he is a national treasure.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) As it slowly evolves and increases in popularity, crime fiction seems to be organically sub-dividing into a number of widely diverse categories. Which genre (or sub-genre, evenÖ) of crime novel would you say you write in?
I write whodunits, with the usual double-faced clues that the reader is encouraged to take one way, but which in fact can hold a very different significance. Reviewers often mention the surprise at the end. This is seldom about whodunit, because Christie pretty well exhausted the possibilities of that. It usually concerns something that the reader has assumed from the start of the book, but which turns out to be not true. See for example: Scandal in Belgravia and Last Post.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you usually prefer series or standalone?
Whodunits, obviously, or sometimes investigations of criminal minds Ė Ruth Rendell and Margaret Millar spring to mind. I have no preferences for series or standalones, but I do get a tad fed up with Poirot rearranging the ornaments on mantelpieces.
3) You have an impressive back catalogue of crime novels. Does writing get harder or any easier? What drives you on to the next book each time you finish one?
Writing gets harder and harder, and I am conscious of using up material. I am probably fortunate in having lived in three very different countries (the UK, Australia and Norway) which, together with holiday destinations (Italy and Portugal mostly), does enlarge the possibilities. I continue to write crime because it is how I make my living, and I do enormously enjoy it. It will be up to you, publishers, to put a stop to me.
4) You won the CWA Diamond Dagger. How did it feel to be recognized by your peers?
It was an enormous thrill and a surprise. On the night I heard about it from Lindsey Davis my wife kept saying ĎPlease ring up Lindsey. It must be a joke.í That pretty much sums up my reactions.
5) Lesbianism is featured heavily in the plot and subject of this book. What drew you to this area?
Why not? It was something I hadnít used before. By the way, when I first used a female narrator (I think in Disposal of the Living) my then editor wrote that she had never expected to see me in drag. That was (unusually) imperceptive. Of course one has to get into the minds of both sexes, otherwise one cuts oneself off from 50% of the population. If you have no personal experience of a matter (type of character, setting, etc.) one has to imagine it and do so in a way that the reader is convinced.
6) The central character of Eve is portrayed as cool and calculating. Why did you feature a largely unsympathetic central character?
I donít find her unsympathetic. She responds immediately to Rani, makes decisions about her own involvement with him emotionally, is loving but not foolish about her memories of her mother. What is unsympathetic about her? She is an intelligent woman, and this involves calculation at times. What is wrong with calculation?
7) Families Ė and particularly dysfunctional families Ė feature heavily in your books. Does this area intrigue you, and do you have any theories about nurture leading to evil or criminal activities?
I donít think I have any theories about dysfunctional families, and I think they are a bit about arguments about whether, for example, pornography incites or satiates. Sometimes one, sometimes the other. I certainly come from a dysfunctional family, with long periods (weeks, months) of total silence between parents. I do tend to go on about my mother, but it should be said that in our village/small town she was considered a remarkable, charming, energetic woman. Some clues as to why I chose whodunits here??
8) Without giving away the plot, which book - yours or by another author - included your favourite plot twist of all time?
The twist at the end of Christieís short story version (NOT the play or the film) of Witness for the Prosecution.
9) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Three titles sprang immediately to mind. Kind Hearts and Coronets, Some Like it Hot and Psycho. I think if forced to choose one, it would be the last: it has three gut-punching scenes.
10) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
Yes. I read a lot of crime, but usually find I have to switch to something more mainstream after three or four in a row. Christie, Allingham, Millar, Grafton, early Rendell, P. D. James, Brand, Brett, Lovesey, Lindsey Davis Ė the list is endless. I never persevere with a novel Iím not enjoying, in the widest sense of the word. Even my mainstream authors can disappoint. What a dreary novel Sense and Sensibility is!
11) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
More Work for the Undertaker.