Wednesday, January 22, 2014


The Progress of a Crime, Julian Symons, Harper & Brothers, 1960, 211 pp

This mystery won the Edgar Award in 1961. Hugh Bennett is a 22-year-old reporter for a small town paper in England. He dreams of getting to London eventually for work on a national paper.

When he is sent out on the usual boring assignment to cover a Guy Fawkes Night, he witnesses the murder of a local tavern owner. Before long he is involved with a top crime reporter from a big London paper as well as with the sister of one of the suspects.

A gang of knife-carrying motorcycle youths are called in, questioned, and eventually two of them are charged and tried for the crime. The London paper pays for a lawyer to defend the youths in exchange for access to the families. As the situation grows more tense, Hugh learns the ways of the world and has to grapple with his own moral compass.

The storytelling is not particularly gripping, in fact might be a bit too literary for crime fiction, but does deal with teen crime, the political and economic conditions of the times, and class conflict in mid-20th century Britain. These are the times that gave us the Beatles, the Kinks, and the Rolling Stones. Not many writers were addressing teens yet in 1960. Probably Catcher in the Rye spawned the genre and I read a 1959 novel, Absolute Beginners, also set in England, that featured teens as a new demographic. It will be interesting to see the development of such books as I continue through My Big Fat Reading Project, especially since I myself became a teen in 1960.

(The Progress of a Crime is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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