Friday, 15 July 2011

Forgotten Book - Portrait of a Murderer

Anne Meredith is not a name to conjure with in the history of crime fiction, yet this pseudonym does not deserve to have sunk into oblivion. It is one of a number of pen names used by Lucy Malleson, who is far better known as the prolific detective novelist, and creator of Arthur Crook, Anthony Gilbert.

My choice for today's Forgotten Book is the first novel she produced under the Meredith pseudonym, back in 1934. Portrait of a Murderer is, considering its date, arguably a pioneering work. There are some hints of the irony deployed by Francis Iles, but the novel has a bleakness of tone which is distinctive.

The opening section, comprising just one paragraph, is memorable – so much so that I will quote it in full.

"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. The crime was instantaneous and unpremeditated, and the murderer was left staring from the weapon on the table to the dead man in the shadow of the tapestry curtains, not apprehensive, not yet afraid, but incredulous and dumb."

Even though the identity of the culprit is revealed fairly early on, the story that Meredith tells held my interest throughout; at times, her approach almost put me in mind of Ruth Rendell. I don't want to say too much about the plot, as to do so would probably spoil it to some extent. But although I missed the wit that Iles often deployed, I can recommend it. Certainly, I'm very surprised that it has been ignored by historians of the genre.


Philip Amos said...

We had the same thought on this one, Martin. As soon as I read the first sentence of the paragraph you quote, I thought, "Ruth Rendell. Judgement in Stone."

J F Norris said...

Good one! That's an opening paragraph that has hooked me for sure. I've made a note of it and have crossed my fingers that it will turn up over her in some book shop in the near future.

aguja said...

This sounds interesting, Martin.

The Passing Tramp said...

Well, this one didn't miss it!