Friday, 1 July 2011

Forgotten Book - Poison in the Parish

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.


aguja said...

Brilliant title! It captures the era by using the word 'parish' - shock, horror, in the parish!!

I will make a note of this one, Martin

J F Norris said...

Have you reviewed all of Kennedy's books now? I thought he had a small output. There might be two or three you have yet to get to. I wish more of them would show up over here. His books certainly are scarce. At least three of them deserve to be reissued in a modern edition by someone. (Any reprint houses out there listening?)

Martin Edwards said...

Aguja, yes, I enjoyed the title too!
John, no, there are still some I'm looking for. They are hard to find, sadly.I'm surprised he's disappeared so far from sight.

The Passing Tramp said...

I think I have the only other copy of this book! ;) I agree it's one of his best, surely worth reprinting.

Martin Edwards said...

Let's hope someone does reprint Kennedy one of these days, Curt!