Published by British Library Publishing
Publication date – 25 September 2017
Source – review copy
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.Thus begins a classic crime novel published in 1933, a riveting portrait of the psychology of a murderer. Each December, Adrian Gray invites his extended family to stay at his lonely house, Kings Poplars. None of Gray’s six surviving children is fond of him; several have cause to wish him dead. The family gathers on Christmas Eve – and by the following morning, their wish has been granted.
The Gray family have gathered for Christmas but it is not the season of goodwill to all men. Adrian Gray, the patriarch is not liked by his children, tolerated by some, hated by others. There is more than one person who wants something from Adrian Gray that Christmas Eve. All will be disappointed and one will commit murder.
Adrian Gray isn’t a particularly likeable man. Although he only appears on a few pages the reader learns about his character, his lack of affection towards his children, his temper and his taciturn nature. The family members are also examined and most left wanting. There are secrets that most of the children are keeping, their own struggles that cloud judgement and result in rash decisions. The writing is such that the reader almost immediately makes judgement on the characters, there are characters that you don’t want to be the murderer because you like them, others you hope will be the one to commit the crime because the reverse is true.
This book is very much about the murderer as opposed to the victim. The reader is finds out quite early in the story who the culprit is. The title of the novel is particularly clever for this book is indeed a portrait of a murderer. We see the reasoning behind the crime, the steps the perpetrator takes to evade justice and the ramifications for both the killer and the family as a result of the demise of Gray.
This is a short novel but the reader does not feel cheated of a story. The writing style is such that through a few short pages the reader is given a full picture of a character or situation. The switch in narrative from third person to first person is very effective, in using this technique Ann Meredith draws the reader in, giving them a more personal relationship with the murderer, making it more emotive and real as a result. There is very much a closed room feel to the novel. The list of suspects is short, the murder takes place on a cold, snowy Christmas eve, with the house shut off from others. It is not a whodunit, nor really a whydunit. It is a character study and a study in what makes a murderer and what happens after the fatal incident.
Portrait of a Murderer is an engaging, entertaining read, easily conjuring vivid images of a bygone time. A perfect way to spend a dark evening, curled up and transported to another age.
A great addition to the British Library Crime Classics, I can’t wait to discover more Golden Age crime from the collection.
About the author
Anne Meredith was the pseudonym of Lucy Beatrice Malleson (1899–1973), who is best known as the author of the Arthur Crook series of detective novels published under the name of Anthony Gilbert. She was a highly esteemed writer of crime fiction and a member of the elite Detection Club, but the ‘Anne Meredith’ books have long been unavailable.