Jonathan P. Eburne’s Surrealism and the Art of Crime is a survey of surrealism’s involvement with crime spanning the movement’s ascendancy in the arts between the 1920s and the late 1950s. Drawing on gruesome case studies and the surrealists’ often violent theoretical and literary writings, as well as their macabre art works, this book makes for an entertaining introduction to the movement. Figures such as André Breton, George Bataille and Philippe Soupault are revealed in compelling detail through Eburne’s investigation. Far from being only an introduction to surrealism’s more familiar proponents however, Surrealism and the Art of Crime also convincingly stakes out a case for an expanded field of activity for the movement, including in its covers several less expected names including René Crevel, Simone Breton, Leonora Carrington and Chester Himes.
Eburne’s book is compelling partly because it takes advantage (as the surrealists did) of a common fascination with crime, and partly because the author is so scrupulous about following up the details and implications of such a fascination. Often reproducing surrealist pieties about art and crime, Eburne’s treatment performs and critiques his subject at the same time. The review considers the difference between Surrealism and the Art of Crime and crime fiction before moving on to look through Eburne’s own detective’s eyeglass at key moments when murder and theory coincide.