Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Progress Of A CrimeThe Progress Of A Crime by Julian Symons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Julian Symons' "The Progress of a Crime" is a winner of the prestigious Edgar Award for 1961, which places Mr. Symons in the illustrious company of authors such as Raymond Chandler, Nicolas Freeling, John le Carré, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, who all received the award within a few years of 1961. It is indeed a very good novel - I found it very hard to stop reading very late at night or rather early in the morning. Not exactly because of the plot, but rather due to the unusual depth that transcends the mystery genre.

Hugh, a young journalist from a local newspaper in a medium-size city in England is sent to report on the bonfire in which the locals burn an effigy of a bad squire from the past on the Guy Fawkes night. During the event one of the locals is stabbed to death, apparently by members of a gang of youths who take revenge on him for throwing some of them out of a dance party two weeks earlier. Hugh witnesses the crime. While the police begin their investigation and arrest five young men, various journalists from London arrive to feast on the juicy story.

The interrogation scenes are pretty brutal, almost bordering on torture, as the police keep sweating the truth out of the young men. Two of them are committed for trial, and when it begins, the novel turns briefly into a courtroom drama. But the author is not really interested in what goes on in the courtroom; we instead witness machinations in the background, and the guilt or innocence are not even mentioned as they are irrelevant. A stereotypical courtroom drama, such as ones written by Mr. Grisham or Mr. Martini, usually culminates during the closing arguments. I love Mr. Symons' approach - he skips the closing phases of the trial entirely. Remember: guilt or innocence are irrelevant, and it is not important which side - prosecution or defense - wins. The only thing that counts is the "story" that the press can sell to readers.

Rather than being just another pointless "whodunit", the novel is a powerful indictment of unethical practices in the world of journalism. A really good book, whose rating I could even round up to five stars if some characterizations, for instance that of Leslie's Dad's, were more convincing.

Four and a quarter stars.

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