Monday, October 8, 2018

The Belting Inheritance- Julian Symons

I've been dog sitting for the last couple of days, back to work in the morning, and very nice it's been too, though perhaps not quite as productive as I might have hoped.

There had been plans to tackle a new knitting project - fingerless mitts - but I stuck the wrong size needles in my bag so couldn't get any further than the ribbing stage. It's probably for the best, the dog was very much of the opinion that I wanted to play with her, not waste my time reading or knitting - and who am I to argue with that.

Inbetween walks, throwing balls, and general fussing (tummy rubs and ear scratches being particularly appreciated) I did get time to read 'The Belting Inheritance' by Julian Symons. It's one of the most recent British Library Crime Classics, and I particularly enjoyed it.

I hadn't come across Symons before these current reprints, and it seems that for a while he was dissatisfied with 'The Belting Inheritance', happily he came back found to it. I think it's one of the most enjoyable bits of detective fiction I've read.

Written in 1965, but set in 1955, the narrator and sort of detective is 18. Christopher Barrington is taken to Belting to live with distant relatives after his parents are killed. The house is a Victorian gothic survival, dominated by the personality of old Lady Wainwright, perpetually mourning the two sons she lost in the war, and not much liking the two sons she has left and insists live with her.

She is kind to Christopher though, who finds he switches pretty much effortlessly from middle class life in Woking, to the country house and private school trappings of the upper classes. When we meet him he's an intelligent 18 year old with a taste for poetry and Japanese prints - and there's something about his youth and affectations that are particularly endearing. This is a changing world, full of possibility, and not one that looks back with any particular nostalgia to a pre war order.

For Christopher, fresh from school, there are a whole lot of shocks in store, the first being the reappearance of one of those supposed dead uncles. The second is a murdered body in the shrubbery, but from there on it's a rollercoaster ride of drink, drugs, sex, and the realisation that not everybody sees his family the way he does.

I loved the drinking bits, where poor Christopher, who has only just started to be allowed to drink a single glass of port after dinner, is introduced to whisky, Armagnac, Pastis, and really awful hangovers in short order. His total failure to cope with hard liquor is both accurate and funny. His not really understanding the significance of a syringe and spoon he finds, or that particular characters are gay means he makes no judgement about them either, and that works well too. It certainly feels particularly modern.

Meanwhile there are lots of literary jokes to enjoy along with the tongue in cheek portrait of Christopher, which nicely balances the darker side of the story. Lady Wainwright is dying, and nobody else really believes that the newly returned David Wainwright is who he claims to be, so her last days are being dragged out in a positively poisonous atmosphere. Old scandals are being revealed in all their sordid details, but in the end the Belting way of life is going to end with a whimper, not a bang.


  1. Sounds great. I have a copy - must get onto it soon. Thanks!

  2. I really enjoyed it, it has a definite charm that more than compensates for the occasional over reliance on coincidence, and the family relationships felt right. If you have the heavy rain we've got here today it's the perfect book to hibernate with.