Family Matters by Anthony Rolls

Poisonous relationships…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Even the most kind-hearted of Robert Arthur Kewdingham’s family have to admit he can be quite annoying. Having lost his job in middle-age, he now spends his time on his collections of second-rate Roman artefacts and dried-out beetles, while telling anyone who will listen about his past life as a priest in Atlantis. Opinions on his wife, Bertha, are divided. Some, mostly the men, feel that her husband doesn’t deserve such a handsome, spirited wife and that he treats her badly. Others, mostly the women, feel that if she had any sort of wifeliness about her she’d shake Robert out of his eccentricities and back into the world of useful employment. Robert and Bertha live in a state of constant quarrelling, tired of each other, dissatisfied with their lives but unable to change. It’s a pity that Bertha is attractive to other men, and that Robert keeps a pharmacy-size stock of poisons readily to hand to treat his rampaging hypochondria. Things are bound to get nasty…

This is a lot of fun and a real step up from the only other Rolls I’ve read, Scarweather. It’s a kind of inverted mystery – we know a murder will be done, and it’s not too long before we can guess who the victim will be. But such are the divided opinions on this unhappy couple that several people could have reason to do away with either one of them. In fact, the question is almost one of who will murder the victim first!

The characterisation is excellent, not just of the awful Robert and Bertha (who got some sneaking sympathy from me even though I didn’t feel she really deserved it), but of the various members of the extended family. Robert’s old father lives with them and an unpleasant old codger he is, constantly reciting quotations to Bertha of how an ideal woman should behave. Uncle Richard is a decent man and feels Bertha has more to put up with than any woman deserves, even moody ones like her. Cousin John is firmly on Bertha’s side – too much so perhaps. The Poundle-Quaintons, mother and spinster daughter, feel it’s their duty to drop little hints to Bertha on how she should manage her husband better. And Robert’s sister, clear-eyed about her brother, does her best to befriend the unhappy wife.

Challenge details:
Book: 81
Subject Heading: The Ironists
Publication Year: 1933

There is much here to do with various drugs and poisons in use at the time. Robert’s genuine illnesses, topped up by his enjoyment of his hypochondria, mean that Dr Bagge is a frequent visitor to the house, partly as physician and partly as friend. Dr Bagge likes to make up his own medicines and tries to stop Robert from dosing himself up on quack preparations, with little success. Once the murder is done, the presence of all these various medicines and drugs will complicate the matter badly for the authorities, and there’s a good deal of wit in the way Rolls handles all the various effects and side-effects of the different poisons around the house, not to mention in how Dr Bagge views his patients as good subjects for him to try out his latest concoctions on.

The idea of living in this house full of rather unpleasant people is pretty awful but I must say they’re a lot of fun to watch from the outside. The mystery is handled very originally – usually with an inverted murder, in my limited experience, the reader knows who the murderer is, but here Rolls manages to keep to that kind of style while still keeping the reader somewhat in the dark. As a result, I found it much more of a page-turner as I really wanted to know who was the guilty party and how it would be proved. Vague, I know, but deliberately – this is one where it would be easy to give accidental spoilers.

Another very enjoyable read from the British Library Crime Classics series, and of course it has the usual informative introduction from Martin Edwards. Good stuff – I’ll be looking out for more from Rolls, though unfortunately he wasn’t as prolific as many of the Golden Age writers.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

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22 thoughts on “Family Matters by Anthony Rolls

  1. I do like the eccentricity of these characters, FictionFan! What fun! And, yet, it sounds like a solid story, too, with something for the mind, too, if I can put it like that. Even that setting sounds like it works well. One for the *whispers* TBR, I think.

    • I think you’d enjoy this one, Margot, so I won’t tell if you slip it onto the TBR! It’s a good combination of plot and characters and it’s a bit different to any other I’ve read – sadly I can’t tell you in what way since that would be a spoiler, but it pleased my originality-seeking mind… 😀

  2. This one sounds interesting! And kudos to you, FF, for writing your review in such a way as to pique our interest without giving away too much detail. Lovely to end a week on a five-star read, too!

    • Haha – yes! He was convinced he was a priest in Atlantis in a past life and kept telling everyone about it at great length, much to poor Bertha’s annoyance… 😂

  3. You’ve done well not giving away any spoilers, and the story certainly sounds intriguing. The main characters seem rather ambiguous, which we don’t always see in murder mysteries.

    • It’s so hard to make these kinda quirky ones sound intriguing without giving too much away! I loved the characterisation in this – I found myself taking one side and then the other since none of them could really be described as the good guy…

  4. A fun murder mystery read, this is enticing. The characters’ names and fairly extreme personal characteristics are an indication of a writer having some fun too. Thanks for an equally enticing review and, as the Kindle price is reasonable, I’ve purchased it 🙂

    • Oh good, I hope you enjoy it! I love that these BL books are available so reasonably for Kindle – some of the people publishing these re-issues price them far too highly, I think. I loved the characterisation in this and the plot is quirkily original… 😀

    • The poison element of this one is great fun – kinda original! Martin Edwards is the guy who writes all the introductions for these BL Crime Classics, and he also wrote The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, which is what my vintage crime challenge is based on. He’s probably considered the leading expert in vintage crime, though there are one or two others who might dispute that! He also writes crime novels of his own and was the President of the Detection Club till quite recently, as well as Chair of the Crime Writers Association.

        • I did read one of his detective series and enjoyed it but still haven’t got around to reading the others. And I tried to read his recent book which was historical crime set in the Golden Age but *whispers* I abandoned it… 😂

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