Rathbone, Julian 1935–
Rathbone, Julian 1935–
PERSONAL: Born February 10, 1935, in London, England; son of Christopher Fairrie and Decima Doreen (Frost) Rathbone. Education: Magdalene College, Cambridge, B.A. (honors), 1958. Politics: "Unaffiliated Marxist." Religion: "Atheist." Hobbies and other interests: Music, painting.
ADDRESSES: Home—Sea View, School Rd., Thorney Hill, Near Christchurch, Dorset BH23 8DS, England. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Teacher of English, Ankara College and University of Ankara, Ankara, Turkey, 1959–62; teacher in England, 1962–70; Bognor Regis School, Sussex, England, head of English, 1970–73; writer, 1973–. Literature consultant to Royal Berkshire Libraries, 1983–84; Southern Arts Bursary, 1978.
AWARDS, HONORS: Booker Prize nominations, 1976, for King Fisher Lives, and 1979, for Joseph; Southern Arts Bursary, 1978; Deutsche Krimi Preis, 1989, for Gruenfinger (ZDT/Greenfinger); Silver Dagger, Crime Writers Association, 1993; Swanage International Poetry Prize, 1996.
Diamonds Bid, M. Joseph (London, England), 1966, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1967.
Hand Out, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1968.
With My Knives I Know I'm Good, M. Joseph (London, England), 1969, Putnam (New York, NY), 1970.
Trip Trap, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1972.
Kill Cure, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1975.
Bloody Marvelous, M. Joseph (London, England), 1975, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1976.
Carnival!, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1976.
A Raving Monarchist, M. Joseph (London, England), 1977, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1978.
The Euro-Killers, M. Joseph (London, England), 1979, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1980.
Base Case, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1981.
A Spy of the Old School, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1982.
Watching the Detectives, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1983.
Lying in State, Heinemann (London, England), 1985.
Zdt., Heinemann (London, England), 1986, published as Greenfinger, Viking (New York, NY), 1987.
Crystal Contract, Heinemann (London, England), 1988.
The Pandora Option, Heinemann (London, England), 1990.
Dangerous Games, Heinemann (London, England), 1991.
Sand Blind, Serpent's Tail (New York, NY), 1993.
Accidents Will Happen, Serpent's Tail (New York, NY), 1995.
Homage, Allison & Busby (London, England), 2001.
As Bad As It Gets, Allison & Busby (London, England), 2003.
King Fisher Lives (novel), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1976.
(With Hugh Ross Williamson) The Princess, a Nun, M. Joseph (London, England), 1978.
Joseph: The Life of Joseph Bosham, Self-Styled 3rd Viscount of Bosham, Covering the Years from 1790 to 1813 (novel), M. Joseph (London, England), 1979.
A Last Resort—For These Times (novel), M. Joseph, 1980.
(Editor) Wellington's War: His Peninsular Dispatches, M. Joseph (London, England), 1983.
Nasty, Very: A Mock Epic in Six Parts, M. Joseph (London, England), 1984.
Albert and the Truth about Rats (radio play), Sueddentscher Rundfunk, 1990.
Intimacy (novel), Victor Gollancz (London, England), 1995.
Blame Hitler, Victor Gollancz (London, England), 1997.
Brandenburg Concerto, Serpent's Tail (New York, NY), 1998.
The Last English King (novel), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Kings of Albion (novel), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2000.
A Very English Agent (novel), Little, Brown (London, England), 2002.
The Indispensable Julian Rathbone (collection), Do-Not Press (London, England), 2003.
Birth of a Nation (novel), Little, Brown (London, England), 2004.
Screenplays include Dangerous Games, 1994; The Last English King, 1998; and Shiner, 1998; work represented in anthologies, including Dark Terrors 3, 1997, and The Mammoth Book of New Erotica, 1998; contributor to periodicals, including the Guardian, New Statesman, Independent on Sunday, Sunday Telegraph and Edinburgh Literary Review.
SIDELIGHTS: For many years, Julian Rathbone has been producing political thrillers, often setting an honest if imperfect investigator against a corrupt system. "But what sets Julian Rathbone apart from all other writers in this genre," Betty Donaldson asserted in Twentieth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers, "is his ability to describe his background scenes so vividly that you can not only see them but smell and hear them also." With My Knives I Know I'm Good, for instance, is "a very descriptive tale—of character, of pride, of racial heritage and tradition—and the thrust is more telling for it," Allen J. Hubin wrote in the New York Times Book Review. A New Yorker critic likewise asserted that "some of the best evocations of place and people … [are] to be found these days in … suspense stories, and Mr. Rathbone's new novel [Greenfinger] is a splendid example."
Another distinguishing feature of Rathbone's thrillers is his focus on political issues. Some of these feature Commissioner Jan Argand of Brabt, an open-minded if somewhat conservative crime solver. Washington Post Book World reviewer Jean M. White remarked that the first in the series, The Euro-Killers, is "an unusual thriller which combine[s] suspense with serious commentary on today's international political unrest."
Base Case, the second Argand novel, likewise holds political implications. This story finds the Brabt police commissioner overcoming the traumatic events of The Euro-Killers by traveling to Spain and assisting security at a nuclear base under construction. Newgate Callendar, in his regular New York Times Book Review assessment of crime fiction, deemed Rathbone "skillful," and he described Base Case as "unusually literate and a joy to read." Another reviewer, David Wilson, wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that Base Case is a novel "occupying a middle ground between detective story and political thriller." Wilson called detective Argand "an interesting creation, by no means entirely sympathetic." Callendar called the third Argand novel, Watching the Detectives, "a sober and intelligent look at a part of Europe that represents society everywhere…. Rathbone, never neglecting his duties as a crime writer, has in addition addressed himself to one of the major problems confronting us today."
Callendar wrote that in Carnival!, "Rathbone, as usual, operates very smoothly, and he invests his writing with fine character touches as well as constant momentum." He similarly called A Raving Monarchist "sensitive and elegantly written." Base Case features "Rathbone's dryly engaging style," David Wilson declared in the Times Literary Supplement. "He is an excellent mimic, and can etch a character in a few lines of dialogue." As White concluded: "Rathbone is as complex as his hero, a suspense writer who makes intelligent observations on European social and economic problems."
Another of Rathbone's memorable characters is Turkish investigator Nur Bey, who figures in three of Rathbone's first five novels, all of which are set in Turkey. Notable among these works is Trip Trap, wherein the inevitably upright Bey finds himself tainted by corruption when his police probe eventually involves his own father. Bey appears in Diamonds Bid, in which a teacher becomes embroiled in an assassination conspiracy. This novel, Rathbone's first, was appraised by both a Times Literary Supplement critic and Library Journal reviewer Norman Horrocks as "promising."
Turkey also provides the setting for With My Knives I Know I'm Good, in which Russian folk dancer Aziz Milyutin defects to Lebanon, where he hopes to pursue a career as a nightclub performer. But an unsettling meeting with his dying twin brother soon embroils Milyutin in espionage and mayhem. Book World reviewer C.C. Park called With My Knives I Know I'm Good an "exciting spy novel" and acknowledged its "sophistication and taste."
Spain is another of Rathbone's preferred settings, providing the locale for such tales as Bloody Marvel-ous, which concerns duplicitous drug smugglers; Carnival!, wherein a television crew record a killing; A Raving Monarchist, which concerns a political assassination; and Lying in State, in which Argentine exile Roberto Fairrie becomes involved in the sale of compromising tapes. Dan Smith, in his profile of Rathbone in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, noted the author's skill in having "evoked in such sensitive detail the atmosphere of Spain." Smith particularly praises Lying in State for its strength "in the character of Fairrie and the atmosphere of Spain."
In A Spy of the Old School, Rathbone varies somewhat from his typical suspense narrative to tell the life story of Richard Austen, a British archeologist of exemplary background who is revealed to be a spy. While "the story of the Cambridge spies has been told, one might think, often enough," New Statesman contributor Lewis Jones suggested, referring to the real-life spy ring led by Soviet agent Kim Philby, "there is nothing stale about this novel. The colourful political battles of the Thirties are well-portrayed, and the characters are entirely credible." Smith ranked A Spy of the Old School, along with Rathbone's Lying in State and Zdt., as being "among the best [thrillers] that can be found." London Times writer John Nicholson believed that the plot of A Spy of the Old School "must have written itself," but admitted that due to Rathbone's "crisp competence … I doubt you'll read a better thriller this year." "This is a familiar path to students of the genre," Reginald Hill echoed in Books and Bookmen. "But Mr. Rathbone's handling of it is exquisitely done, giving us a double view, first through extracts from Austen's published autobiography and then by flashbacks to the events themselves. His characters live, he writes with elegance, with wit, and with conviction. What more to say?"
While the author is perhaps better known for his mysteries, he has also written several mainstream novels, two of which were nominated for Britain's prestigious Booker Prize. Joseph: The Life of Joseph Bosham, Self-Styled 3rd Viscount of Bosham, Covering the Years from 1790 to 1813, for instance, is the picaresque "memoir" of a young Englishman raised abroad who becomes involved in the Napoleonic Wars. "To describe Joseph as a good read would be to under-estimate it," Mollie Hardwick asserted in Books and Bookmen. "Immensely long, it has the feel of a Victorian penny-a-liner, and couched in period English with plenty of capital letters, it might be an undiscovered work by Thackeray or Lever." Following Joseph's exploits in both love and war, "the book conforms closely to the pattern of the picaresque novel as described by Joseph's supposed father," John Mellors similarly observed in the Listener. "The picaro or rogue has all sorts of adventures, and the skill of the author lies in presenting his character's development from lively lad to adult scoundrel, keeping the picaro himself unaware of his descent into rascality."
But while Joseph is convincing as a facsimile of a historical chronicle, Michael Ratcliffe believed there is an added dimension to the work. "Beyond all [the novel's] technical pezazz and glittering entertainment stands an organizing mind uncompromisingly intellectual in its grip," the New Statesman contributor declared. "It is this quality that takes Joseph well beyond the mimicry and pastiche implied in its 'period' prose and picaresque form and gives it a firm, late 20th-century character of its own." Ratcliffe elaborated, writing that "with his uncommon gift for presenting characters round historic moral abstractions … then swiftly fleshing them out in sensuality and affection, [Rathbone] is the true novelist, too, transcending the detached narrative convention he has chosen to revive." Hardwick also found the novel to be layered with meaning—"best read slowly, then set aside and re-read," as she suggested. Calling Joseph "a virtuoso performance," Ratcliffe concluded that "what count and remain unforgettable are the tireless inventions of Joseph's adventures within the parentheses of a terrible war and the book's unforced response to the indestructible joys of everyday life, all recorded in prose as strong, clear and unclouded as the light of Castilian day. If ever a novel were compulsively writeable, this is it."
The Last English King is a historical novel whose protagonist is Walt, the only survivor of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, in which King Harold was defeated by William, Duke of Normandy. Walt, who was the king's bodyguard, "wanders through a landscape that's part Hieronymus Bosch, part Monty Python," noted David Kirby in the New York Times Book Review. Rathbone references people and events from that time to this, including The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Princess Diana, Margaret Thatcher, and Jimi Hendrix.
Kings of Albion is set during the fifteenth-century War of the Roses. Ali is an elderly Arab trader who agrees to take a package from England to India and returns with a prince and his servants. As they seek the prince's brother, Ali is seduced in an Egyptian bathhouse by a young girl who had pretended to be a monk, and who also seduces a royal English teen who is engaged in an overthrow plot.
Charlie Boyan is the hairy and well-endowed dwarf in A Very English Agent who claims to have been a secret agent for the British government and who is trying to secure a pension based on his service. The story opens with Charlie and a farm girl copulating in a ditch as the Battle of Waterloo rages all around them. She is killed by a bullet, and he escapes naked. Observer critic Jonathan Bouquet wrote that "Rathbone's description of the actual battle is a dramatic tour de force, vivid in detail and emotion." Charlie's story details time spent with Mary and Percy Shelley, the latter of whom he was charged with killing. He arrived just as Mary was having a miscarriage and helped Percy compose his poetry. Charlie relates how he changed history by committing murders and atrocities and preventing others. Among his adventures was his trip with Charles Darwin on the Beagle. As he pursues his pension, he outwits officials, especially those who do not want him to publish his memoirs. A Kirkus Reviews contributor described A Very English Agent as being "over-the-top, enjoyable R-rated entertainment from an old pro who appears to be having the time of his life."
Rathbone's Intimacy is about the last great castrato singer and his early sexual relationship with his mother. Naomi Delap commented in a review for Spike that "Rathbone approaches the subject of incest without any seeming desire to shock." Two of his later crime novels, Homage and As Bad As It Gets, feature Chris Shovelin, who in the latter story investigates global villains in the agricultural-chemical industry.
The Indispensable Julian Rathbone is a collection of the author's writings, including one novel, stories, memoirs, essays, reviews, and poems, some of which are about Sylvia Plath. Jopi Nyman wrote in International Fiction Review that "this many-sided collection will surely recruit new readers for Rathbone. It shows that his mastery of storytelling has several layers and takes several forms. It also shows how popular genres can be used to explore questions of history and politics in many unpredictable ways."
Rathbone once told CA: "I began writing to supplement poor teacher's pay and became a full-time writer when I finally realised that state education in England is more concerned with producing docile workers or non-workers than anything else. The first purpose of writing is to earn a living, so the first thing my books must do is entertain, but I hope too to enlarge my readers' understanding of the complex society we live in. The major influences on my writing, that I am conscious of, are Graham Greene, Raymond Chandler, Eric Ambler, [and] Durrenmatt, but I am sure there are many others."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 41, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Twentieth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1985.
Booklist, November 1, 1999, Patty Engelmann, review of The Last English King, p. 510.
Books and Bookmen, June, 1979, Mollie Hardwick, review of Joseph: The Life of Joseph Bosham, Self-Styled 3rd Viscount of Bosham, Covering the Years from 1790 to 1813, p. 51; November, 1982, Reginald Hill, review of A Spy of the Old School, p. 24.
Book World, May 17, 1970, C.C. Park, review of With These Knives I Know I'm Good, p. 6.
International Fiction Review, January, 2005, Jopi Nyman, review of The Indispensable Julian Rathbone, p. 133.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2002, review of Kings of Albion, p. 448; January 15, 2004, review of A Very English Agent, p. 59.
Library Journal, August, 1967, Norman Horrocks, review of Diamonds Bid, p. 2811; November 1, 1999, Jane Baird, review of The Last English King, p. 125.
Listener, November 1, 1979, John Mellors, review of Joseph, p. 611.
New Statesman, November 2, 1979, Michael Ratcliffe, review of Joseph, p. 682; October 22, 1982, Lewis Jones, review of A Spy of the Old School, p. 29.
New Yorker, October 19, 1987, review of Greenfinger, p. 122.
New York Times Book Review, May 31, 1970, Allen J. Hubin, review of With These Knives I Know I'm Good, p. 13; February 27, 1977, Newgate Callendar, review of Carnival, p. 32; April 2, 1978, Newgate Callendar, review of A Raving Monarchist, p. 37; May 18, 1980, Newgate Callendar, review of The Euro-Killers, p. 16; May 17, 1981, Newgate Callendar, review of Base Case, p. 37; February 16, 1984, Newgate Callendar, review of Watching the Detectives, p. 27; January 9, 2000, David Kirby, review of The Last English King, p. 20.
Observer, August 18, 2002, Jonathan Bouquet, review of A Very English Agent.
Publishers Weekly, August 18, 1997, review of Accidents Will Happen, p. 71; October 4, 1999, review of The Last English King, p. 64; December 17, 2001, review of Homage, p. 68; February 2, 2004, review of A Very English Agent, p. 58.
Spectator, August 6, 1983, review of Watching the Detectives, p. 25.
Times (London, England), November 4, 1982, John Nicholson, review of A Spy of the Old School.
Times Literary Supplement, July 27, 1967, review of Diamonds Bid, p. 684; June 19, 1981, David Wilson, review of Base Case.
Washington Post Book World, June 21, 1981, Jean M. White, review of The Euro-Killers.
Do-Not Press, http://www.thedonotpress.com/ (July 24, 2003), Mark Lawson, interview with Rathbone.
Shots, http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/ (February 9, 2006), Mick Herron, review of As Bad As It Gets.
Spike, http://www.spikemagazine.com/ (March 20, 2006), Naomi Delap, review of Intimacy.