Barnard, Robert 1936-

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BARNARD, Robert 1936-

(Bernard Bastable)

PERSONAL: Born November 23, 1936, in Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex, England; son of Leslie (a writer) and Vera (Nethercoat) Barnard; married Mary Louise Tabor (a librarian), February 7, 1963. Education: Balliol College, Oxford, B.A. (with honors), 1959; University of Bergen, Ph.D., 1972. Politics: "Vaguely left-wing."

ADDRESSES: Home and office—Hazeldene, Houghley Lane, Leeds LS13 2DT, England.

CAREER: University of New England, New South Wales, Australia, lecturer in English, 1961–66; University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway, lecturer, senior lecturer in English, 1966–76; University of Tromsoe, Tromsoe, Norway, professor of English literature, 1976–83; full-time writer, 1983–.

MEMBER: Society of Authors, Crime Writers Association (committee member, 1988–91), Dickens Fellowship, Brontë Society (chair, 1996–).

AWARDS, HONORS: Edgar Award nominations for best novel, 1981, for Death of a Literary Widow, for best critical study, 1981, for A Talent to Deceive: An Appreciation of Agatha Christie, and five others, all from Mystery Writers of America; Cartier Diamond Dagger Award, Crime Writers Association, 2003 (lifetime achievement award).



Death of an Old Goat, Collins (London, England), 1974, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1977.

A Little Local Murder, Collins (London, England), 1976, Scribner (New York, NY), 1983.

Blood Brotherhood, Collins (London, England), 1977, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1978.

Death on the High C's, Collins (London, England), 1977, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1978.

Unruly Son, Collins (London, England), 1978, published as Death of a Mystery Writer (also see below), Scribner (New York, NY), 1979.

Posthumous Papers, Collins (London, England), 1979, published as Death of a Literary Widow, Scribner (New York, NY), 1980.

Death in a Cold Climate (also see below), Collins (London, England), 1980, Scribner (New York, NY), 1981.

Death of a Perfect Mother (also see below), Scribner (New York, NY), 1981, published as Mother's Boys, Collins (London, England), 1981.

Sheer Torture, Collins (London, England), 1981, published as Death by Sheer Torture (also see below), Scribner (New York, NY), 1982.

Death and the Princess, Scribner (New York, NY), 1982.

The Case of the Missing Brontë, Scribner (New York, NY), 1983, published as The Missing Brontë, Collins (London, England), 1983.

Little Victims, Collins (London, England), 1983, published as School for Murder, Scribner (New York, NY), 1984.

Corpse in a Gilded Cage, Scribner (New York, NY), 1984, published as A Corpse in a Gilded Cage, Collins (London, England), 1984.

Out of the Blackout, Scribner (New York, NY), 1985.

Faete Fatale, Scribner (New York, NY), 1985, published as Disposal of the Living, Collins (London, England), 1985.

Political Suicide, Scribner (New York, NY), 1986.

Bodies, Scribner (New York, NY), 1986.

The Cherry Blossom Corpse, Scribner (New York, NY), 1987, published as Death in Purple Prose, Collins (London, England), 1987.

The Skeleton in the Grass, Collins (London, England), 1987, Scribner (New York, NY), 1988.

At Death's Door, Scribner (New York, NY), 1988.

Death and the Chaste Apprentice, Scribner (New York, NY), 1989.

A City of Strangers, Scribner (New York, NY), 1990.

A Scandal in Belgravia, Scribner (New York, NY), 1991.

A Fatal Attachment, Scribner (New York, NY), 1992.

Four Complete Mysteries (contains Death by Sheer Torture, Death of a Perfect Mother, Death in a Cold Climate, and Death of a Mystery Writer), Wings Books (New York, NY), 1993.

A Hovering of Vultures, Scribner (New York, NY), 1993.

The Masters of the House, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.

The Bad Samaritan: A Novel of Suspense Featuring Charlie Peace, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

No Place of Safety, Scribner (New York, NY), 1998.

The Corpse at the Haworth Tandoori, Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.

Touched by the Dead, Collins (London, England), 1999, published as A Murder in Mayfair, Scribner (New York, NY), 2000.

Unholy Dying, Scribner (New York, NY), 2001.

The Bones in the Attic, Scribner (New York, NY), 2002.

The Mistress of Alderley, Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.

A Cry from the Dark, Allison & Busby (London, England), Scribner (New York, NY), 2004.


To Die like a Gentleman, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1993.

Dead, Mr. Mozart, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1995.

Too Many Notes, Mr. Mozart, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1995.

A Mansion and Its Murder, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1998.


Imagery and Theme in the Novels of Dickens, Universitetsforlag (Oslo, Norway), 1974.

A Talent to Deceive: An Appreciation of Agatha Christie, Collins (London, England), 1980, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1980.

(Author of introduction) Agatha Christie, The Best of Poirot, Collins (London, England), 1980.

A Short History of English Literature, Basil Blackwell (Cambridge, MA), 1984.

Death of a Salesperson, and Other Untimely Exits (short stories), Scribner (New York, NY), 1989.

The Habit of Widowhood, and Other Murderous Proclivities, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.

Emily Brontë, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Contributor to books, including Whodunit, edited by H.R.F. Keating, Windward, 1982, and Murder Ink, revised edition, edited by Dilys Winn, Workman Publishing (New York, NY), 1984. Contributor of short stories to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine; contributor of articles to Books & Bookmen, London Magazine, Armchair Detective, and Times Literary Supplement.

SIDELIGHTS: Robert Barnard has established himself as an innovative figure among British mystery writers. His distinctiveness comes in part from his teaching experience in Australia and Norway, which complements his knowledge of English society. Newgate Callendar in the New York Times Book Review called him "one of the deftest stylists in the field (and out)." "[His] books are maliciously funny, closely plotted, acutely observed, and genuinely puzzling," wrote Robin Winks in the New Republic. Barnard's style is so important to his work that Peter S. Prescott suggested in Newsweek that "if the puzzle were what mattered in Robert Barnard's mysteries, few would read them. Barnard's success lies in his wit, his social satire and his deftly drawn characters."

Well-drawn though they may be, Barnard's characters are not known for their pleasantness. Maude McDaniel noted in the Washington Post that his "gift for satire is so biting that, except for protagonists, he has trouble turning out really likable characters." For instance, A City of Strangers introduces what the New York Times Book Review contributor Josh Rubins called "Mr. Barnard's most exuberantly nasty corpse-to-be thus far." The author explained in a CA interview with Jean W. Ross: "All my characters are pretty awful in one way or another, partly because they are suspects in a murder investigation and I don't really believe that nice people are potential committers of murder."

Barnard uses the act of murder as the focal incident in his novels, but as Jean M. White observed in the Washington Post Book World, he "has never allowed murder—however well-planned and executed—to interfere with his fun as a playfully irreverent observer of the human scene." He has investigated the nature of Australian academia in Death of an Old Goat, the opera in Death on the High C's, and various facets of the literary world in a number of other books. A Little Local Murder, Callendar noted, is "a comedy of manners that looks back to Jane Austen and Trollope." In Blood Brotherhood, Barnard "accomplished two things: he wrote a good mystery and also exposed, gently but surely, the hypocrisies and the human frailties of modern churchmen," observed White in another Washington Post Book World article. Barnard typically casts a cold eye on English society, equally critical of the working class, middle classes, aristocracy, and royalty.

Barnard has varied the setting and focus of each of his novels to enable him to investigate a new slice of life. The Bad Samaritan is set in a traditional English parish, but the featured detective is a black man, Charlie Peace. The setting of Death and the Chaste Apprentice is a modern London suburb, but the plot centers on the performance of an Elizabethan drama (devised by Barnard for the novel). Death in Purple Prose, which was published in the United States as The Cherry Blossom Corpse, is set at a romance novelists' convention in Bergen, Norway. The Skeleton in the Grass takes place during the Spanish Civil War and looks at the question of Socialism. "Barnard has produced a most beautifully crafted novel composed in a yearning elegiac style," wrote Gerald Kaufman in the Listener about The Skeleton in the Grass, "which at the same time is sharply acute on the subjects of arrogance and snobbery." "He plots a mystery as well as any other writer alive," observed a Time reviewer, "and he never takes the easy path of repeating a winning formula."

Barnard's versatility is one aspect of his writing on which many reviewers have commented. Writing in the New York Times Book Review about The Bad Samaritan, David Walton expounded on Barnard's "keen social satire and ear for dialogue." Michele Ross, assessing A City of Strangers in the Christian Science Monitor, suggested that "its strength and appeal lie in Barnard's depiction of human nature at its best, worst, and most indifferent. He takes what would normally be stock characters and turns them into people we recognize." She concluded by calling the book "a thought-provoking morality tale." John Gross, a writer for the New York Times, mused that while "in one sense, Mr. Barnard is thoroughly contemporary—in his settings, his topical references, his whole tone," he is at the same time "a traditionalist, constructing puzzles in the spirit of Agatha Christie … and, in a number of stories, playing with literary themes in the spirit of a Michael Innes or an Edmund Crispin."

In Out of the Blackout, Barnard weaves a different, more serious kind of mystery. The novel begins in 1941 in war-torn England. A train full of children fleeing the London blitz arrives in a small rural town. With them is one child who is able to give few details about his home and family. He is adopted and embarks on a new life, but vague memories haunt him as he grows. As an adult, he becomes obsessed by the mystery that is his past, and he sets out to discover what happened during his life in wartime London. "For Out of the Blackout, I did a quite a bit of reading in '30s history in Britain," Barnard told Ross, "the history of the fashions, the history of people who were interned during the Second World War as possible enemies. But it was on a subject that already interested me and that I already felt I knew something about. The reading was just to back up the book on specific points."

Although the author may have ventured into new territory in choosing his historical setting, John Gross of the New York Times stated that "he shows himself as adept at capturing the flavor of a period (without recourse to obvious props) as he is at evoking the feel of a neighborhood or pinning down a social type." Carolyn See recommended the book in her Los Angeles Times review. She wrote that she "learned a lot about the political climate of the pre-war British under-class [and] gained the satisfaction of learning once again that right (often) triumphs over wrong, and intelligence is better than ignorance and stupid cruelty." Derrick Murdock of Toronto's Globe and Mail came away from Out of the Blackout with the conviction that "Barnard is an inventive, witty writer and skillful satirist, but without question this is the most original novel he has yet written, with an ending as totally satisfying as it is unexpected."

Charlie Peace and his partner, Mike Oddie, appear again in No Place of Safety, Unholy Dying, and other novels. Unholy Dying concerns the murder of Cosmo Horrocks, a muckraking journalist. Many people had good reason to hate Horrocks, but the prime suspect in his murder is the local parish priest, whose charitable attention to an attractive unwed mother has been construed as a romantic entanglement. In fact, gossips even suggest that the clergyman may be the father of the child. Unholy Dying is a "roiling good yarn," according to Brad Hooper in Booklist, who also termed it an "outstanding village mystery in the grand tradition."

Peace and Oddie were also central to Bones in the Attic, which features a recurrent theme of Barnard—lost childhood memories. In this "superbly written" mystery, as a Publishers Weekly writer described it, a well-to-do radio and television personality buys an old home in his childhood neighborhood. While refurbishing it, he discovers the skeleton of a child in his attic. Gradually, he pieces together a dark secret from the past. Assisted by Peace, he evaluates the adult lives of the children who were his youthful peers, trying to determine which of them may know about, or be responsible for, the child whose remains were in his home.

Barnard proved his adeptness with the short story form in The Habit of Widowhood and Other Murderous Proclivities, a critically praised collection of seventeen short stories. Several reviewers took special note of the range of inventive ideas used by the author, as well as the smooth style characterizing his writing. The plots take in everything from a murder related by a unique witness—a dog—to an unexpected appearance by Jane Eyre. The "devious plotting and devilish humor" pleased Pam Lambert, who concluded in her People review, "Just when you think you've figured out what Barnard is up to, he'll outfox you again." A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that in The Habit of Widowhood, Barnard is "at his roguish best."

In addition to his mysteries, Barnard has written A Talent to Deceive: An Appreciation of Agatha Christie, "a long critical essay, in which Professor Barnard discusses the weaknesses and then the strengths of Agatha Christie's detective fiction," noted Janet Morgan in the Times Literary Supplement. "Mr. Barnard's main thesis is that paradoxically, Agatha Christie's defects as a writer contributed to her success as a popular entertainer …. Even the stereo-typed characterization, so far from detracting from the books, contributes to their universality," P.D. James explained in the London Times. In this study, added James, "Christie's supreme skill, the talent to deceive, or rather, the tricks by which with gentle cunning, she seduces us into deceiving ourselves, are analysed by Mr. Barnard with a crime-writer's perception." "It's the wonderful professionalism of her that I admire very much," Barnard told Ross. "When it came to the moment when Crime Club was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, they were going to reprint a terrible old book about Christie. Finally, after various hints that I would like to write one, which were not taken up, I said, 'For God's sake, I'll write you one in three months or something.' They agreed immediately, and I did it."

Barnard's other nonfiction books include a study of Charles Dickens, whose works have greatly inspired him. "To me, Dickens is the Shakespeare of the novel," the author told Ross, "and I'm always pinching things from him. I like his sharp, near-caricature style of characterization. To me Dickens is the writer in English who is closest to me, whom I love most, so inevitably he comes in into the books in one way or another. Every word lives in Dickens, even the terrible sentimental bits. He never writes dully, so that I think he makes one weigh up one's words and see that they have a vitality of their own."



Booklist, July, 1996, Barbara Baskin, review of The Masters of the House, p. 1838; August, 1996, Brad Hooper, review of The Habit of Widowhood and Other Murderous Proclivities, p. 1885; April 15, 1998, Brad Hooper, review of No Place of Safety, p. 1374; February 15, 1999, Brad Hooper, review of The Corpse at the Haworth Tandoori, p. 1043; March 15, 2000, Brad Hooper, review of A Murder in Mayfair, p. 1332; May 1, 2001, Brad Hooper, review of Unholy Dying, p. 1618; March 15, 2003, Brad Hooper, review of The Mistress of Alderley, p. 1278; December 15, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of A Cry from the Dark, p. 729.

Bookseller, December 20, 2002, "Bernard Wins Cartier Dagger," p. 6.

Buffalo News, June 28, 1998, Ed Kelly, review of No Place of Safety, p. F7.

Christian Science Monitor, November 30, 1990, Michele Ross, review of A City of Strangers, p. 14.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 6, 1985.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2003, review of The Mistress of Alderley, p. 271; November 15, 2003, review of A Cry from the Dark, p. 1341.

Library Journal, February 15, 1996, Kristin M. Jacoby, review of The Masters of the House (audio version), p. 190; August, 1996, Rex E. Klett, review of The Habit of Widowhood, p. 118; March 15, 1997, Susan McCaffrey, review of The Bad Samaritan: A Novel of Suspense Featuring Charlie Peace, p. 101; June 1, 1998, Rex E. Klett, review of No Place of Safety, p. 166; March 1, 1999, Rex E. Klett, review of The Corpse at the Haworth Tandoori, p. 114; April 1, 2002, Rex E. Klett, review of The Bones in the Attic, p. 146; December, 2003, Michele Leber, review of A Cry from the Dark, p. 162.

Listener, April 2, 1987, pp. 24-25; January 21, 1988, p. 24.

Los Angeles Times, July 25, 1985.

New Republic, February 7, 1981.

Newsweek, December 31, 1984; February 24, 1986.

New York Times, July 12, 1985; October 31, 1986; October 14, 1988, p. C29.

New York Times Book Review, November 22, 1981; February 6, 1983; May 8, 1983; March 25, 1984; December 22, 1985, p. 30; June 8, 1986; September 27, 1987, p. 27; October 15, 1989, p. 47; January 7, 1990, p. 29; October 14, 1990, pp. 38, 40; August 25, 1991, p. 23; October 22, 1995, p. 27; June 23, 1996, Marilyn Stasio, review of Too Many Notes, Mr. Mozart, p. 28; April 18, 1999, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Corpse at the Haworth Tandoori, p. 28; May 6, 2001, Marilyn Stasio, review of Unholy Dying, p. 30; April 21, 2002, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Bones in the Attic, p. 18.

People, October 7, 1996, Pam Lambert, review of The Habit of Widowhood, p. 38.

Publishers Weekly, October 25, 1985; June 12, 1987, p. 75; July 29, 1996, review of The Habit of Widowhood, p. 74; March 23, 1998, review of No Place of Safety, p. 81; November 17, 1989, p. 44; March 16, 1998, review of A Mansion and Its Murder, p. 58; March 23, 1998, review of No Place of Safety, p. 81; February 8, 1999, review of The Corpse at the Haworth Tandoori, p. 197; March 13, 2000, review of A Murder in Mayfair, p. 65; March 26, 2001, review of Unholy Dying, p. 66; March 11, 2002, review of The Bones in the Attic, p. 54; February 10, 2003, review of The Mistress of Alderley, p. 165; January 19, 2004, review of A Cry from the Dark, p. 56.

School Library Journal, November, 2000, Linda A Vretos, review of A Murder in Mayfair, p. 182; December, 2000, Starr E. Smith, review of Emily Brontë, p. 152.

Time, July 29, 1985.

Times (London, England), April 29, 1980; September 7, 2002, Patrick Kidd, review of The Bones in the Attic, p. 21.

Times Literary Supplement, February 27, 1981; October 9-15, 1987, p. 1124; July 22-28, 1988, p. 818; December 29, 1989, p. 1448; September 6, 1991, p. 22.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), August 9, 1992, pp. 4-5.

Washington Post, August 5, 1983.

Washington Post Book World, November 19, 1978; October 19, 1980; April 19, 1981; January 19, 1986.

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Barnard, Robert 1936-

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