Narrator: Simon Darwen
Published by Soundings on December 1, 2017 (first published 1933)
Genres: Christmas, Vintage Mystery
Length: 6 hrs 41 mins
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"Adrian Gray was born in May 1862 and met his death through violence, at the hands of one of his own children, at Christmas, 1931." Thus begins a classic crime novel published in 1933, a riveting portrait of the psychology of a murderer.
Each December, Adrian Gray invites his extended family to stay at his lonely house, Kings Poplars. None of Gray's six surviving children is fond of him; several have cause to wish him dead. The family gathers on Christmas Eve - and by the following morning, their wish has been granted. This fascinating and unusual novel tells the story of what happened that dark Christmas night; and what the murderer did next.
Adrian Gray and his six adult children, along with a few spouses, are gathered at his country home for Christmas. I want to say “to celebrate Christmas,” but I don’t think they were ever really going to celebrate. They are not a nice group of people. Adrian is not a nice man himself. Then we have Richard, a politician who desperately wants a title, and his wife who may in face hate him. Olivia is married to Eustace (cue the anti-Semitism of the 1930s), a shady financier, his whole reputation is on the line if he doesn’t manage to raise a substantial sum of money urgently. Brand ran off when he was young to be an artist, but is he’s now working as a low-paid clerk and wants money so he can take off back to Paris to try to revive his career as a painter. His wife isn’t at the house party, but she is a crass woman whose children are probably not Brand’s. Amy, Gray’s daughter, has never left home and runs the house in an almost military fashion. Isobel is home again after a failed marriage. The only happy one is Ruth, who is married to a lawyer. Both she and her husband are happy where they are in life and actually don’t want anything from Gray, unlike the others, at least that’s how it seems. They are at the house simply out of duty.
We know from the first sentence that one of his Gray’s six children killed him. Not too much later, we learn which one the killer was. The rest of the book deals with whether or not s/he will be caught. And it’s a study of the characters. Meredith explores the mind of the murderer, the motives, the way of seeing the world that is so off-balance but logical in its own way. She explores the other characters too. I would say the innocent characters, but none of them is innocent. They may have not killed Gray, but most either wanted to, have benefitted from his death, or have knowledge that they may or may not share. It is very much a book more concerned with character than plot, more concerned with the process than justice.
I really enjoyed it. It has the feel of a vintage mystery, but the inverted mystery makes it stand out. In a family where few are good and few care about each other, does it matter who’s really guilty?
Do you have any favorite Christmas mysteries? I’m always looking to add to my list.