Monday, August 31, 2020

Family Matters - Anthony Rolls

I'm on the verge of a BL Crime Classics binge (which I'm sort of trying to resist because there's a lot of good books I should be reading right now, including from the BL's Tales of the Weird series and Women Writers) bought on by having a sort out to see which titles I actually had and realising how many I haven't read yet. That and them normally being excellent escapism, and god knows I want to escape from 2020 on a regular basis.

Reading 'Family Matters' only intensified the desire for a proper binge, although it didn't offer quite as much escapism as I might have liked - Robert Arthur Kewdingham, 'an eccentric failure of a man' (spoilers coming) who will be both the villain and victim of the piece turns out to be a man in his late 40s, unemployed, and something of a hoarder. It's all a bit close to the bone for a woman in her mid 40's, unemployed, who has a habit of collecting junk.

Fortunately I'm less inclined to persecute any potential spouse by talking about past lives as a high priest of Atlantis or bringing beetles home - so maybe it's okay. Robert Arthur, and much of the rest of the Kewdingham family are wonderfully realised monsters, full of middle class smugness and complacency in their own superiority and convinced that the universe will provide all they feel entitled to.

It's no surprise that Robert Artur's wife is at the end of her tether and at a point of desperation, it's more surprising that there isn't a great deal of sympathy for her - but then she's an outsider to the Kewdingham's who are bound by type to support their own however unsatisfactory he is.

The book opens with a description of the main protagonists and then follows them and their motivations until quite near the end Robert Arthur dies. The reader more or less knows what's happening to him and who's doing it, although it's impossible to tell precisely what happens to him in the end - although there are several people with guilty intent by then.

The beauty of this approach, which feels really novel for 1933 is that the reader is really involved with all the characters, especially Bertha (the unfortunate wife). She's an intelligent and attractive woman who is much put upon, but she also loses her temper, bickers with her husband in public, and can't disguise the contempt she's coming to feel for him. She mostly has my sympathy, but there's enough of an edge to her to make the wider family's antipathy make sense.

Robert Arthur himself is a fabulously drawn example of monstrous ego. At any point where I might have felt some sympathy for him it was quickly squashed - and yet he's also utterly believably human and so if sympathy isn't possible, a little bit of pity is.

Crime classics is a broad term, there are books in this series which are pleasantly amusing period pieces but not much more (they don't need to be, good quality classic entertainment is plenty to be going on with), but there are also titles like this one where classic refers to more than style. This book really stood out for me as something more on every level, and I'm very glad it was the one I picked up. 

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