Monday, November 14, 2016

Sheer Torture - Robert Barnard

'Sheer Torture' is, I think, the first in the series of Perry Trethowan books, it certainly precedes 'The Case of the Missing Brontë' (events from 'Sheer Torture' are alluded to in the later book). It's also my favourite of the three Barnard's I've read, mostly because it's gloriously, and slightly inappropriately funny.

I'm just going to quote the back blurb in full because it gives an accurate flavour of the book...

"It can be a bit of an embarrassment when your old man is done in. Particularly when you are a rising inspector with CID, and hated his guts. Particularly when your old man was at the time subjecting himself to a do-it-yourself version of a Spanish Inquisition torture. And wearing spangled tights. What it meant was that Perry Trethowan had to go back to the home of his ancestors and do a bit of semi-official sleuthing.

Like the Sitwells and the Mitfords, the Trethowans proved that Birth and Artistic Talent could go together. The Trethowans, though, made one hope it didn't happen to often. Percy's father had been a dilettante composer so minor that he stopped composing long before he started decomposing. His uncle Lawrence, head of the family, was a poet of sorts, one of his aunts a stage designer, another an overgrown schoolgirl who had never grown out of her Thirties crush on Adolf Hitler. And that's only the older generation...."

First published in 1981, which probably pre dates the wholesale Mitford mania we've seen in the last couple of decades this is a book that will either really appeal to you (it did me) or not. If the blurb didn't sound promising don't read it.

I know just enough about the Sitwell's and (a bit more about) the Mitford's to make the parody funny. Ugly Victorian gothic houses, family feuds, Perry's understandable reluctance to have his wife and son meet the rest of the family, and the fear that he might end up as head of the family are all also right up my street.

The salacious details about the death (and general habits) of Trethowan senior are mercifully brief, there's a vigorous nod towards Victorian sensation fiction, and a general feeling that Barnard had a high old time writing this. I loved it, and now I wonder - will any other Barnard I read be a disappointment in comparison?


  1. Now I can't work out if you mean that or not! I did find it hilarious, but some of it was appealing to the eternal 6th former in me.

  2. I'd definitely like to read this! And I have a particular fondness for books where you can feel the writer enjoying him- or herself. :)