I’ve always thought that dedicating a book to someone is such a wonderful thing to do. So many dedicate those pages to their spouses, parents, children, even agents and publishers.
Some, of course, dedicate to longtime fans or use the dedication as an auction item to raise money for charity.
So I was curious why G.M. Malliet, left, dedicates her latest novel A Demon Summer to the late, great Robert Barnard, at right.
And here is what she has to say:
“Robert Barnard introduced me to the wry, literate, beautifully written, and laugh-out-loud-funny mystery novel. I started reading him in my 20s or early 30s and I own all of his books. I will keep them no matter what, although the paperbacks are rather falling apart,” says Malliet.
“He is the only author I would always order from the UK in hardback (he tended to be published there first, and I could not wait for the US edition to come out). I had to read whatever he was writing as soon as I could get my hands on it. There is no author I've ever felt that way about and I doubt I will again,” says Malliet. Mystery Scene featured Malliet in the 2010 Winter issue.
“His later books became dark: I don't mean violent, exactly, but the themes were just dark and rather depressing. Convoluted family situations, is what I recall. It was the earlier books I fell in love with. Death of an Old Goat, of course—his first. Blood Brotherhood—set in a monastery and hysterically funny about religious types. Political Suicide—a complete romp, a skewering of politicians, which is easy to do but so difficult to do well.
“He took on the working class and the high and mighty, making no distinctions. I say he skewered ‘types,’ especially petty tyrants, but there was just a wry humor and intelligence at work that was never mean-spirited.
“Anything I know about comic timing and sentence structure and the use of the English language and the slow buildup to the punch line I feel I owe to my reading and rereading of Robert Barnard. His plotting was excellent, too—I don't think I ever guessed who dunnit. But he was a lifelong Agatha Christie fan and it showed. I would also recommend highly to Agatha fans his bio of her: A Talent to Deceive,” adds Malliet.
Through the years, Malliet met Barnard a few times, mainly at the Malice Domestic conferences where “he could be found in the smoking area, so I would seek him out there. I was just in awe of him and gushed a lot, I'm afraid. Don’t ask me to recall what was said. It took all my courage to talk to him,” she says.
Malliet also remembers being seated at the same table as Barnard and wife, Louise, during a St. Hilda's conference where he was a main speaker. “But it was a large table for eight or ten people and the person he really spoke with was my husband who sat right next to him. Darn it! But that is how the seating fell out. I pumped my husband for details later and all I recall now is that Bob Barnard had a lovely pension by this time from his years teaching in Norway and was happily settled near Leeds. Still writing books, of course. I remember also that at this conference was an American woman, a big mystery fan, who I think told me she had showed up on his doorstep one day just to say ‘hi.’ I found that disturbing but I gather he wasn't bothered,” says Malliet.
And finally there was her fan letter to him.
“This was probably the second fan letter I've ever written in my life (the first was to P.D. James) but I started to realize Barnard would not be with us forever and I wanted him to know how much pleasure his books had given me over the years. . . . Sure enough, he wrote back on a postcard picturing heather on Haworth Moor. The card came from the Bronte Parsonage Museum, a cause to which he and his wife were devoted. This card in its enclosing envelope has remained on my bulletin board ever since, there to inspire me. It was stamped by the Royal Mail in Leeds with a date of 24.02.11 and on it he writes: “I am suffering all the ills of 70-plus, but I have another book of short stories coming out.” He goes on to talk about A Mansion and Its Murder coming out in the UK after some delay caused by a change of publisher,” she remembers.
Such memories and inspiration would be, of course, cause for a dedication.