The Colour Of Murder by Julian Symons

John Wilkins is a married man. Not a happily married man, just a married one. He does not love his wife, but when he meets a young woman in the library, he becomes obsessed with her. The story of that obsession is told by John to a psychiatrist, conducting an evaluation of John. John has been having blackouts, causing him to forget things. But could he have forgotten committing murder?

A young woman lies dead on Brighton beach and Wilkins is on trial for her murder. But did he do it? Was it deliberate or conducted under one of Wilkins’ blackouts? Or is he the scapegoat for someone else’s crime.

I’m not a fan of Julian Symons, at least not before going into this book. It was he who coined the phrase ‘humdrum’ and helped consign some of my favourite authors to near-oblivion even to this day. So it was with some trepidation that I approached this one, my first foray into his own fiction.

I suppose this isn’t an inverted mystery as we are left for a long time before we discover whether Wilkins committed the murder or not, but it has all the hallmarks of that genre. And it’s not a genre that I particularly relish, interesting denouement or not. We either spend an age learning about the motivations for a murder, or an age learning nothing that’s really relevant to the plot about the background to a non-murderer.

It’s well-written, spending time building character and cranking up tension, but it’s not really my sort of thing, so personally, I didn’t particularly enjoy it. As I said, I’m not a fan of the inverted form and I’m getting a little tired of courtroom drama. As such, I’ll sign off here and direct you over to the review over at Cross Examining Crime, where Kate loved it. I can see why people would like it, I can see why it’s a good book. But it’s not my sort of thing – give me a traditional whodunit next time…


    • It does seem an age since I read a book that I truly enjoyed, rather than just admiring it. Even the recent Vivian title wasn’t as good as the first one. Basically five disappointments in a row (and one I abandoned early on)… time for some guaranteed fun (see the Coming Next box)


    • We’re going to have to agree to disagree here. I don’t know how instrumental Symons actually was in consigning authors like Rhode, Connington and Crofts to obscurity in favour of non-mystery fiction like this one, but I’d rather read anything by those authors before rushing back to this one.


      • Not much I’d say, symons’s book was published in 1972 when Connington et al had already slipped into relative obscurity, and the puzzle mystery no longer topped any best seller lists. I’d bet being discussed in his book, one of the few histories of the genre, might have kept their names more prominent than say Francis Vivian’s, whom I don’t recall him discussing.
        But humdrum is still a memorable and apt term!


  1. Read the first half of this one. Could not bear to read the whole legal setup and trial, so I flipped to the end. In retrospect, the plot makes no sense. If you take the events in the order they actually happened: Person X is murdered. Who would the police suspect first? Every reader of this blog knows the answer. Don’t want to say any more for fear of spoilers, but this one was a waste of time.


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