The Paper Chase (Symons)

  • By Julian Symons
  • First published: UK: Collins, 1956; US: Harper, 1957, as Bogue’s Fortune

A young detective writer takes a job as a teacher at a progressive school, and finds himself in an imbroglio of spies, Nazis, gangsters, and corrupt politicians (compulsive anal sadists).  The detective writer’s first book is Where Dons Delight, a story of University life complete with a pornographic library, a don who thinks he’s a vampire bat, and mind-altering drugs.  Symons’ plot isn’t much tamer.  He’s apparently writing an homage to Michael Innes.  “A pleasing fancy, Applegate thought, but no doubt inaccurate.”

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Philip John Stead, 18th May 1956):

[Like Leo Bruce] Mr. Julian Symons also refuses to take crime seriously.  The central character of The Paper Chase, a writer turned schoolmaster, in search of material to write about, is one of those resigned, very ineffective young men who are certainly making their mark in modern literature.  His quest for material proves alarmingly fruitful—a colleague is murdered on the night of his arrival—and the association of a school for difficult children, run by a crank and a dipsomaniac, with a history of espionage that began during the Second World War produces a plot which summons up memories of The Gem, The Magnet, The Third Man and The Mask of Dimitrios.  The puzzle is an involved one, but the reader is not likely to be in the dark for long.  The host of characters, however (some of whom are very nasty indeed), and the author’s shameless and zestful manipulation of the course of events, leave little time for critical reflection.

Manchester Guardian (Milward Kenndy, 6th July 1956):

Then there are the near-fantasies of the Innes–Crispin school…  For such, university or school is a favourite setting—witness also … Julian Symons’s Paper Chase with its “progressive” school.

Here we reach what in publishers’ minds now seems an important classification: the “novel of suspense”.  Does [Symons’s] Paper Chase belong in it, with its sparkling blend of realism and melodrama?  What is the publishers’ definition?