Friday, 6 February 2015

Forgotten Book - Scarweather

Scarweather, first published in 1934, is the third book by Anthony Rolls (real name C.E. Vulliamy) that I've covered in this blog, and it's a distinctive and interesting novel, with pleasing touches of satiric wit, especially at the expense of archaeologists. One of the unusual features of the novel is that the events described take place over an extended period - a decade and a half. The action kicks off just before the start of the First World War, but the final drama is enacted much later.

The story is told by a young barrister called John Farringdale, who has to be one of the most naive fictional lawyers I've encountered in a long time. The detective work - unhurried, to say the least - is done by Farringdale's mentor, a gifted all-rounder called Ellingham, who is presented in such a way that I did wonder if Vulliamy had thought of using him in more than one story.

Much of the action takes place at a lonely spot on the northern coast called Scarweather. Apparently there is somewhere called Scarweather Sands in the author's native Wales, but his fictional version is located in England - presumably on the east coast, rather than the west, though I couldn't identify it with any resort that I know; certainly not with Scarborough. Farringdale, his friend Eric, and Ellingham, get to know Professor Reisby and his gorgeous wife Hilda, who live at Scarweather, and a sinister sequence of events begins to unfold.

I found the style of writing enjoyable; Scarweather's a good read. The plot has a pleasing central idea, but the main flaw of the book, in my opinion, is that the final revelation is obvious long, long before the end. I was hoping for an unexpected twist, but no luck. This seems to me to be Vulliamy's weakness as a crime writer; he had a gift for coming up with terrific ideas, but struggled to sustain plot development and narrative tension to the end of his books. This may explain why his work has faded from view, but his merits are such that he deserves rediscovery.

Golden Age commentators have had mixed views about him over the years. There is a good essay about him in Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers by the very knowledgeable Charles Shibuk, and Barry Pike is another admirer, but Barzun and Taylor were not keen, and Julian Symons expressed some reservations in Bloody Murder. As ever,  Curt Evan's blog is informative and includes a review of this novel; he also published an article about Vulliamy in CADS  a couple of issues back.

Incidentally, when I wrote about Vulliamy on this blog five and a half years ago (blimey, can it be that long?) I mentioned that I have a signed copy of his late book Floral Tribute, but had never read it. Alas and alack, I still haven't got round to it. But I really, really, intend to make the effort now....

5 comments:

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Shame about the ending Martin but this sounds more than worthy of re-assessment - how easy is it to get a copy?

Martin Edwards said...

Not very easy, to be honest, Sergio, but it crops up on Abe and eBay every now and then. I'd like to see it republished one day.

John said...

I've read FAMILY MATTERS by "Anthony Rolls" which I thought was exceptional. Also read THE VICAR'S EXPERIMENTS which is entertaining but not on the same playing field as FAMILY MATTERS. Peter Lovesey seems to have channeled Vulliamy when he wrote THE REAPER which is remarkably similar to THE VICAR'S EXPERIMENTS. More of a black comedy satire that one. Like you I have a copy of FLORAL TRIBUTE (mine's unsigned) but have yet to read it.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, John. It'a long time since I read Don Among the Dead Men, one of his later books, but I wasn't totally enamoured, even though it made it into a green Penguin edition - sometimes, but not always, a sign of quality.

Ted said...

Unfortunately, here is the USA his books are extremely hard to find. I was able to get THE VICAR'S EXPERIMENTS (published as CLERICAL ERROR) thru inter-library loan a year ago. But I'm not sure if any of his other books were ever published in the US.