This is my latest review based on a Xavier recommendation and as with every other Xavier recommendation I have had, you can rely on it to be obscure, unconventional and also rather good.
A lot happens in the opening chapter of the story, though principally it is to view the final minutes of Archibald Gedney’s life, at a very exclusive and expensive nursing home. In these final minutes Archibald is ruminating over the dream which has dogged him for twelve years and has ultimately withered his body through the strain of it all. It is this dream which gives the reader the first hint that Archie has done something to feel guilty about, something he did with his three other siblings, though it is Myra who he abhors and fears the most, the ring leader of the group. Yet his death is not the end of the dream, nor the end of the crime they committed. Though if you are predicting some young female protagonist who is determined to see justice down then you will be sadly mistaken, as instead we are faced with Connie Walworth, Myra’s daughter in law. Now Connie is stony broke and is none too impressed that Archibald left her nothing in his will. With a matter of dollars left and still smarting from the acid remarks of her mother in law who is rolling in money, Connie chances upon Archie’s most recent diary, the contents of which gives her enough hints that there might be something Myra would like to keep quiet…
I can only really begin with Connie, as she is the lynchpin of the story. To have such an un-redeeming anti-heroine as the lead character, makes this both a very forward looking text, but also a text which looks backwards as I would say Connie can be nicely paralleled with Becky Sharp, though Connie is far far nastier. Both though are not keen to work for their living and I think Connie’s personality is summed up well here:
‘suffered from no lack of intelligence […] her other traits were a pathological laziness, love of luxury and a fixed conviction that the cream of existence was hers by right.’
Oh and if you are still undecided about her, one of her earliest actions is to run over a chipmunk! So yes suffice to say there is no sympathy coming Connie’s way, though her target for blackmail is not one to pity much either.
However what develops and expands this plot are the characters of Dr Markham and Ann, Myra’s daughter, who soon become roped into things, equally providing two sides of a poisonous romantic triangle. Looking at this story in terms of the big picture I found it quite novel to have a protagonist investigating a cold case, not for justice or truth, but for mercenary motives. This book is equally the most unusual variation on the inverted mystery I have seen. Though having dropped the dreaded I. M. term I would say that the reader nor even many of the characters know fully what has happened and none of them certainly know what will happen, as Berckman’s plot twists and turns in unexpected directions. The ending of course yields irony that Anthony Berkeley would have been proud of and it is a pity that he never reviewed this one.
Consequently it is great to be able to say that this undeservedly not well known book is easy to obtain as there are a number of reasonably priced second hand copies of it online.