Reputation for a Song (1952) by Edward Grierson

You hear nothing about a book for ages, then two reviews come at once. The Puzzle Doctor got up a bit earlier than me this morning so fired out his review for our latest Book group read first (though I would like to take some credit for having reminded him to read it in time for Sunday.) Grierson is an author I have known for a while but never tried and I hadn’t really heard much about him online either. Initially I confused them him with another mystery writer called Francis Grierson and I was soon to discover that they didn’t just share a surname. They also shared the ability to write tedious books. But more anon.

Synopsis

‘“Rupert Laurence Anderson you are charged on this indictment with murder. How say you, are you Guilty or Not Guilty?”

When a skeleton comes rattling out of the Anderson family’s cupboard, the resultant tension and resentment lead to a brutal death. But was it murder?

A chilling psychological thriller [nothing this dull and predictable could be classed as chilling] which centres on the drama and tension of the murder trial, Edward Grierson’s gripping story exposes piece by piece the sordid truth behind the crime. The verdict is as surprising [it’s not] and as arresting as Edward Grierson’s unputdownable novel. [I put it down frequently].’

*Yes, there might be a few additions to the blurb

Overall Thoughts

The author’s legal background is immediately apparent in the opening chapter which features the start of a trial. Grierson imbues this scene with a strong sense of ceremony such as when he writes about the clerk of assize: ‘He was a priest performing at a ritual, and now address the sacrifice.’ Moreover, I would also say the writer leans into a sense of performance when it comes to the delivery of the prosecution’s opening speech:

‘What passions, hates, desires, must be involved in the taking of a life! Is it on account of some dramatic sense that we see this court filled with spectators, people clamouring outside for seats just as though this were a theatre, this trial a play? What words do they expect to hear? What tragic actions told? And yet, in the case it is now my duty to present there may be – I confess I hope so – much food for disappointing them. For it is of small things that I shall tell, small hatreds, small jealousies, small desires. Small motives, gentlemen, and the sum of them was the killing of a man.’

From eloquent courtroom speech, the narrative then switches to a very run of the mill family drama saga, although it did have some amusing comments about the deadliness of bridge: ‘the hidden clash of personalities more pronounced than is normal even around bridge tables, where more than one homicide has probably been hatched…’ and ‘for those afternoon sessions indulged in by the ladies are things apart, the nearest reminders left to us of the days of tooth and claw.’ For a few pages I was reminded of Georgette Heyer’s mysteries, as Grierson uses the bridge night effectively to show the fault lines in Robert’s marriage. At this stage it was clear that the narrative was unusually showing the family patriarchal as a sympathetic figure, more wronged than not. I wondered if this would change. Would the writer complicate this situation? Short answer: No.

The narrative then gives over a large space of pages to a potential developing romance (watered down Jane Austen) between Robert’s eldest daughter and the local curate, which Robert’s horribly malicious wife, Laura, (seriously baffled why no one killed her) scuppers out of spite. By this point my patience for the slow pace of the book had evaporated in the heat (I was reading it on Monday) and more than ever the Victorian tone and style of the writing became evident.

The Victorian feel to the book (and not in a good way), surprised me hugely as I had to keep reminding myself that this book was published in 1952, not 1852. Even for readers in the 1950s, I think this book would have felt dated. This datedness comes through in the predictable depiction of the dysfunctional family setup and even the most novice mystery reader can easily predict where the narrative is going. It is then a case of painfully waiting for the book to catch up.

Part way through the book this mystery becomes an inverted one, but this is not a patch on the work of C. S. Forester, Anthony Berkeley or Richard Hull. It adds nothing to the subgenre and doesn’t use the conventional inverted mystery tropes in an interesting way. If you want to see what new ground was being chartered in inverted mysteries in the 1940s and 1950s then I would recommend seeking out some of Charlotte Armstrong’s works. Infinitely superior. The trial which the blurb promotes as being exciting is dreary as ditch water and the ending just left a sour taste in my mouth. Dull in a depressing fashion.

Rating: 2.75/5

See also: To get a different perspective on the book, Aidan at Mysteries Ahoy! has also reviewed this title and enjoyed it much more.

7 comments

  1. I know I read this decades ago but I remember pretty much nothing about it. Which perhaps means something. You and PD aren’t fans of inverteds though. Be interesting to see more reviews.

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    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s not strictly true. I have loved inverted mysteries by Richard Hull, C. S. Forester, Anthony Berkeley (including his Francis Iles pen name), Ethel Lina White, Edna Sherry, Charlotte Armstrong, Bernice Carey, Leo Bruce, Francis Beeding, Andrew Garve and Donald Henderson.

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