Style is often a matter of taste. I daresay that the Falconer style, for reasons that are beyond me, is not to everyone’s taste, but at least his writing:
is clear and unambiguous
is grammatically, syntactically and orthographically correct in every detail
has (I like to think) a certain elegance
evinces an old-world charm too often lacking in today’s writing
springs no surprises (no sex, profanities or violence)
in short, provides good, wholesome, family entertainment!
Some classic crime novelists – naming no names, but, just for the sake of argument, might I, without incurring charges of patronisation and to give the reader an idea of what I have in mind, instance Agatha Christie, Ellis Peters and Margaret Yorke? – have failed to evolve their own style: they tell a good story, but the English is undistinguished. Their books are entertaining but not, in my submission, literature. (There is, of course, more to literature than the use of language, but surely literature must at least include a good use of language?) Some crime novels, like those of Peter Cheyney and Raymond Chandler, are racy and fast-paced; others, like Eco’s The Name of the Rose, heavier and more discursive. Some – might one instance Reginald Hill, Ian Rankin and Camilleri? - aim at realism, others (Ngaio Marsh, Tey, Brett) at a cosier, less harsh atmosphere.
Some, returning to past ages, like Anne Perry, Peter Lovesey and Derek Wilson, try to reproduce the police methods, the language and the background of a historical period. Some, like Michael Innis, Ronald Knox and R. Austin Freeman, make a point of using words well. Where, in all this variety, does Falconer stand? Let us instance some features of his style, as I understand them:
a wide and varied vocabulary
a deliberate effort to overcome, with the judicious use of clauses, any tendency to parataxis
careful punctuation, marking off phrases and clauses so that the eye is quickly guided through the text
an effort to use words effectively, allowing each one its proper weight and giving each one a context in which its meaning is properly reflected
an effort to create sentences which are well-balanced, both within themselves and with each other
observance of traditional grammar and syntax in an effort to reflect accepted and reputable English usage as resorted to by the best authors. Authors he admires include Scott, Dickens, Graham Greene, H. E. Bates, John Moore, Charles Morgan, C. P. Snow, Galsworthy, Anthony Powell ... all of a past age!
a balance among direct speech, indirect speech and narrative, to provide variety.
What he is not necessarily very good at is giving characters individual voices. Also, he does not find it easy to reproduce local dialects, even though he can hear the characters speaking in his head. Furthermore, some readers might find his writing austere, pernickety or over-serious. I beg them to persevere!
Take the following passage. Its provenance is immaterial, but let us say, for the sake of this exercise, Simon Brett’s The Poisoning in the Pub (2009), chapter 13:
He just didn’t look right, though, sitting in a Fethering Beach café, whose frontage opened on to the shingle and where hordes of holidaymakers queued up for tea, burgers and ice cream. Amid all the tanned and sunburnt skin on display, Ted Crisp had a prisoner’s pallor. But then he never did go outside the pub much. Whether entirely true or not, it was his proud boast that he’d never before set foot on Fethering Beach. And it was only twenty yards from the front of the Crown and Anchor.
If Falconer had been writing this paragraph, he might have preferred to present it thus:
He just did not look right, however, sitting in a Fethering Beach café, the frontage of which opened on to the shingle and in which hordes of holidaymakers queued up for tea, burgers and ice-cream. Amid all the tanned and sunburnt skin on display, Ted Crisp had a prisoner’s pallor - but then he never did go outside the pub much. Whether entirely true or not, it was his proud boast that he had never before set foot on Fethering Beach - which was only twenty yards from the front of the Crown & Anchor.
The changes are small, but the overall effect, while subtle, is unmistakeable. Which does the reader prefer? It is a question not of what is right as opposed to what is wrong but of the ‘feel’ or atmosphere that the two writers wish to create. Brett is matey and comfortable, where Falconer is formal, more ‘literary’, clearly keen to distinguish dialogue from narrative.
However, although the discussion could continue for a long time, perhaps enough has been said in the present forum. I hope the reader is convinced that at least Mr Falconer is concerned about style – concerned to provide those who take up his books with a GOOD READ.
About the Author
Julius Falconer completed six enjoyable years of university studies abroad (particularly slow, our Julius) before working as a translator back in the UK. Thinking that he could earn more as a teacher, to fund his lavish life-style, he took a PGCE at Leeds University and duly turned to teaching. He slaved away at the chalk-face for twenty-six long years in both Cornwall and Scotland before retiring to grow cabbages in Yorkshire, where he still lives. His wife of thirty-three years unfortunately died suddenly in 2000. He has one daughter, married. In 2009, looking to fill his new-found leisure profitably(?), he started to write detective novels and is still happily scribbling away seventeen books later. His interests include music, reading, walking, gardening and genealogy.
Julius Falconer is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.