My choice for today's Forgotten Book is another novel by the unjustly neglected Millward Kennedy – this one is Poison in the Parish, which was first published in 1935. It opens with a rather aggressive dedication to an un-named person who has complained that Kennedy peoples his work with unpleasant characters. Here, Kennedy says, is something rather different. The suspects are all relatively agreeable people.
The book then begins with an extract from a letter which is tantalisingly described as a "prologue or epilogue" before the story proper gets underway. Following gossip in a small village, the police have exhumed the body of a rather nasty old lady who turns out to have been poisoned with arsenic. In order to get a handle on life and relationships within the village, the police – rather improbably, it must be said – call upon a wealthy invalid to assist their enquiries.
The invalid is called Francis Anthony, and I am as sure as I can be that Kennedy chose the name deliberately as a tribute to his friend and colleague by taking the first names of his two most famous pseudonyms, Anthony Berkeley and Francis Iles. The book is in many ways a homage to Iles, especially in its ironic flavour, and one of its main features is a very unusual murder motive which later found its way (in the context of a very different storyline) into Anthony Berkeley novel.
I figured out what was going on in the story at an early stage, partly because aspects of the narrative reminded me of a book that Agatha Christie wrote early in her career. But this did not spoil my enjoyment of the mystery, which is pleasingly put together. I'd say this is one of Kennedy's most entertaining novels, and a reminder of his talent. It's strange to think that he produced only a handful of novels after this one. Perhaps his disastrous experience with the law courts over a libel claim, which I discussed in this blog recently, provides the explanation.