Another trip to the vaults discloses a poisonous 1933 Christmas tale by the pseudonymous Lucy Beatrice Malleson (1899-1973), who also wrote under the names J. Kilmeny Keith and, more memorably, Anthony Gilbert.
As Martin Edwards notes in his introduction, it would be hard to improve on this opening sentence: “Adrian Gray was born in May 1862 and met his death through violence, at the hands of one of his own children, at Christmas, 1931.” The ill-assorted family members the patriarch of the Manor House at King’s Poplars has gathered around him include his two sons—Richard, who’s desperately seeking a peerage, and Hildebrand, an impecunious painter who wasn’t even invited—and his four daughters—the unmarried Amy, who lives in the Manor House; Olivia, whose husband, Eustace Moore, is a dodgy financier; Isobel Devereaux, who’s separated from her unsuitable husband; and Ruth, who’s married to no-longer-promising attorney Miles Amery. The world’s most strained holiday visit gets even dicier when one of the children impulsively punctuates a late-night argument by fatally striking the father they all heartily dislike with a paperweight. After an opening section introducing the main characters, with particular attention to Richard, Brand, and Eustace, Meredith makes no secret of the murderer’s identity, following the inverted pattern made famous by Francis Iles’ Malice Aforethought two years earlier. The working out of the plot is absorbing but less memorable than the group portrait of the Grays, of whom one member reflects, “Of course, as a family, they were all dog eat dog.”
A great setup developed with a heartless sense of purpose that still never quite fulfills the promise of that remarkable opening sentence.