Friday, 5 February 2016

Forgotten Book - Lobelia Grove

Lobelia Grove was the second novel published under the name of Anthony Rolls, a follow-up to the successful The Vicar's Experiments. The book appeared in 1932, and my copy, from the Bob Adey collection, is signed by the author and dated September 1932. It's signed in his real name, C.E. Vulliamy, rather than as Rolls. (Bob's copy of the first Rolls book is signed in both names.)

The setting is a fictitious "garden suburb", and the social life of Kipperly  Park is portrayed with a great deal of sly wit. One always feels, with Rolls-Vulliamy that constructing a mystery interested him rather less than exercising his gift for satire,,but I must say I really enjoyed this one. He tackles the theme of the craving for respectability exhibited by so many English people, and he presents us with a number of incisive portraits of local characters, and how they behave when murder disrupts the serenity of their lives.

A case in point is Mr Bertie Quirtle (the author liked to give his characters unlikely names, a habit that I find a trifle irritating). Quirtle is returning home one night when he encounters a rude stranger in a hurry. Almost immediately thereafter,he stumbles across the body of one of his neighbours. Rather than doing something about it, he scuttles off and later tells a series of lies, seemingly out of fear of becoming involved.

There's a pleasingly ironic plot twist towards the end, but the real pleasure of the book comes from Vulliamy's jokes, and his ability to make shrewd points through humour. At the time he was writing, these books must have seemed refreshingly "different", and they still retain that quality. Yes, the influence of Francis Iles can be detected, but unlike Iles, Vulliamy was not someone who had written tightly structured whodunits, and this helps to explain why his novels focus more on people than on plot. He was a novelist who happened to write about crime. All the books of his that I've read are worth seeking out..  .

3 comments:

John said...

Now here's a writer whose books ought to be reprinted. Get the British Library onto those, Martin. ;^) My favorite of the Anthony Rolls books is Family Matters. It's so modern for a GAD novel from the 1930s and delivers some delicious, utterly unexpected scenes in the final pages. Way ahead of his time.

seana graham said...

I hadn't heard of Rolls/Vuillamy before, Martin. He sounds interesting.

Ted Lee said...

I sure wish his works would be reprinted! Unfortunately, very few of his works were ever published in the US. The only one I have ever read was Clerical Error (US edition of The Vicar's Experiments) and enjoyed it immensely.