A Few More Thoughts on Boucher

Come to think of it, Anthony Boucher was one of the earliest proponents of auteurism in crime fiction, long before François Truffaut applied it to movies. As I’m rereading and enjoying his SF Chronicle columns, I realize that who wrote the book heavily factored in his final assessment of it. His favourites – which often happened to be personal friends of his – almost couldn’t do no wrong, whereas his banes couldn’t do anything right. This made him predictable sometimes, which can be problematic for a reviewer – you can’t fully trust a critic whose mind seems to be made even before he actually read the book. 
Another thing Boucher had in common with Truffaut and his crowd was his somewhat reluctant attitude towards British crime fiction. Though he was not as thoroughly hostile to it the way Truffaut was to British cinema*, what he called « the English school » elicited much less enthusiasm from him than the American one. Even his most laudatory reviews were loaded with caveats, slow pacing and snobbery being frequent complaints. It is certainly no coincidence that his bane of all banes at the time (Spillane hadn’t been introduced yet) was Major Cecil Street a.k.a. Miles Burton and John Rhode. The poor man seemed to be a concentrate of everything Boucher loathed about « the English school » and he more than paid for it – Boucher going as far as to call his work « abysmal ». His assessment of leading figures such as Agatha Christie or Edmund Crispin is also surprisingly lukewarm. The former’s The Moving Finger for instance, now widely regarded as one of the best entries in her catalogue, is dismissed as « passable » whereas the latter’s classic The Moving Toyshop gets an all-round execution. Christianna Brand fans may also be surprised at his favouring Suddenly at His Residence over Green for DangerBoucher was much better at spotting homegrown talent, with one of his most impressive exploits in the field being his « discovery » of David Goodis a whole two decades before the French officially « discovered » him. He would later similarly enthuse over Jim Thompson, another purported French find – without receiving due credit in either case. 
* Truffaut famously proclaimed that British cinema « didn’t exist » – a moronic and ill-informed view that is sadly still Gospel to most French movie critics.

Un commentaire sur “A Few More Thoughts on Boucher

  1. I’m very taken by that Ramble House anthology of Boucher’s columns, and am intending to pick it up when I next get a bunch of their stuff. I’m intrigued by your assessment of his assessments, and it’ll be interesting to see what other views he held — thanks for whetting my appetite!

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