Robert Arthur Kewdingham is an eccentric failure of a man. In middle age he retreats into a private world, hunting for Roman artefacts and devoting himself to bizarre mystical beliefs. Robert’s wife, Bertha, feels that there are few things more dreadful than a husband who will persist in making a fool of himself in public. Their marriage consists of horrible quarrels, futile arguments, incessant bickering. Scarcely any friends will visit the Kewdinghams in their peaceful hometown Shufflecester. Everything is wrong – and with the entrance of John Harrigall, a bohemian bachelor from London who catches Bertha’s eye, they take a turn for the worse. Soon deep passions and resentments shatter the calm facade of the Kewdinghams’ lives.
Welcome to Shufflechester “one of the most English of English towns” and home of Robert Arthur Kewdingham and his wife Bertha. Despite the idyllic setting, their marriage is not a happy one, constant bickering, frequent clashes and a fast developing hatred between the spouses. Robert Arthur is more interested in Ancient Civilisations and collectables, than his attractive wife, who has gained the admiration of a local doctor and a London writer.
“He did not see any moral objection to an intrigue with Bertha, because he knew she had ‘finished’ with his cousin Robert.”
This book is less of a who-dunnit and more of an illustration of how-it-happened. In fact the murder doesn’t actually occur until the final few chapter of the book. Anthony Rolls moves his players around perfectly in the first portion of the book, setting up the friendships, arguments, suspects and motives that all lead to the eventual demise of Robert Arthur.
“a knowledge of something fatal thrust into the centre of her mind and would not be denied.”
I enjoyed the first three quarters of the book more than the last portion. I found it wildly entertaining seeing how these characters interacted with each other and how relationships developed or broke down in the case of Robert Arthur and Bertha. It’s a wonderful study of human nature and psychology. Robert Arthur is such a frustrating man that he finds himself the victim of two different poisoners, using two different poisons, the result of this situation is unexpected and adds to the entertainment.
“A man is man, lead is lead, and when you combine the two in definite proportions you ought to get a definite result”
This is a fantastic read with more family drama than an episode of Hollyoaks – witty and unique, it’s a great addition to The British Library Crime Classics series. I recommend it highly!
BOOKISH CORNER RATING – 4/5 STARS
Anthony Rolls was a pseudonym of C.E Vulliamy (1886-1971) a biographer, soldier and archaeologist of distinction who also wrote ten crime novels, four of which were published during the golden age of British detective fiction between the world wars.
‘Family Matters’ is out now in paperback. With thanks to Maria at The British Library for my copy
If you enjoy ‘Family Matters’ then why not try these:
‘Antidote to Venom’ Freeman Wills Crofts
‘Verdict of Twelve’ Raymond Postgate
‘Sparkling Cyanide’ Agatha Christie
‘Crooked House’ Agatha Christie