Saturday, December 16, 2023

Suddenly At His Residence - Christina Brand

This is my second nomination for Cross Examining Crime's reprint of the year. I wasn't totally convinced by the first Christina Brand I read, but I really liked 'Suddenly at His Residence', maybe because I was ready for her style and characters, and maybe because this was a slightly earlier book with slightly different mannerisms. 

Sir Richard March's grandchildren have taken their various leaves from blitzed London to gather at Swanswater, the family home for the anniversary of their grandmother's birthday. When she was alive Sir Richard was happily carrying on a suburban sort of an affair with Belle, whom he's now married too. She is tasked with maintaining Swanswater as a shrine to Serefita who had been a glamourous, though maybe not overly talented, ballet dancer.

The grandchildren mostly lost their parents in the First World War so Sir Richard and Belle also stand as parent figures, and for Peta, daughter of the eldest son there's the chance of a sizable inheritance which is making her hopes of a romance with the young family solicitor complicated. There's also Philip, married to Ellen, who's having an affair with his cousin Claire, and Edward, Belle's grandson who has worked himself into the belief that he's got serious Freudian issues to resolve.

Not then a particularly happy family party that gathers. Their various squabbles and the revelation of the Philip/Claire/Ellen situation to an outraged Sir Richard has him deciding to change his will as a matter of urgency. Unfortunately by the morning, he's dead and the new will is missing. The family are forced to concede that one of them is guilty and there's a nerve-wracking time finding out who, and what their motivation was.

I liked this so much because almost everybody is unbearable with the possible exceptions, in my opinion, of Ellen, Stephen, and maybe Belle - the outsiders in the March family. They bicker, suspect each other, plot, come together to protect each other, and generally behave as a family does. Except that one of them is a murderer. Their manners and actions are as callous as you might expect from the same generation today (although a relationship with your cousin would be unacceptable) and the ending is appropriate as well as dramatic - if heavy on the symbolism. 

In short it's a book that really resonated - and heavens, would it make a fabulous change to another Agatha Christie adaptation. I will watch the new one, I'll enjoy it, but we don't really need it, whereas here we have a plot and a set of characters that really do lend themselves to the darker interpretations of Christie we keep getting. 'Suddenly at His Residence' has a genuine emotional punch beneath it's flippancy and I loved it. 

1 comment:

  1. This is one of my favourites by this author. I really enjoyed the ending and think this would make for a great TV adaptation.