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 Anne Meredith’s murder mystery, Portrait of a Murderer: A Christmas Crime Story. The novel, which is divided into 7 parts, begins on Christmas day with the Gray children coming from different parts of the country to spend the holidays at their ancestral home in the country with their father, Adrian Gray, as per family tradition. Adrian Gray’s children are Amy, the eldest daughter and a spinster living in the manor, whose responsibility involves looking after him and the household; Olivia, who is married to Eustace Moore, a financier, and handles Adrian Gray’s money and investments; Isobel, a divorcee; Hildebrand, or Brand for short, who is the artist and black sheep of the family; Ruth, who is married to Miles Amery, a lawyer; and Richard, who is an up-and-coming politician with his eyes on a peerage, who is married to Laura, a once well-known socialite. Though home for the holidays, the group feel little cheer in their father’s house and toward one another. Most of them, the men especially, had ulterior motives for visiting their father, money being the number one concern.
As the family gathers for Christmas breakfast, they notice belatedly that their father did not come down to join them. Later, they discover him in the library, dead, seemingly from a stroke. Only after they call the doctor did they realize that their father had not died from natural causes but was murdered. The “who” of the murder is not a mystery, as readers will soon find out in the 2nd part of the book, which describes how the murder was done, including by whom and why. The murderer also presents his thoughts and feelings as well as how he planned to avoid the blame by framing another member of the family. Parts 3–7 of the novel tackle the family’s discovery of the murder, the events after the crime, including the reactions and problems of the Gray children now that their father was gone, the verdict of the initial trial of the murder and the successful framing of the true murderer of one of his relations, the witness for the defense, and finally, the answer to the real mystery. The last part of the novel is dedicated to how another member of the family, who was not totally convinced of the real murderer’s innocence and the framed man’s guilt, helps solve the mystery by identifying the real murderer with unintentional help from a former servant in Adrian Gray’s manor,
Portrait of a Murderer is less about who did the actual crime than why it was done and how the murderer felt about it afterwards. Disguised as a murder mystery, what the novel really wants to show is the dark depths of the human soul. It will be evident to the reader that after the Grays discovered the death of their father, not a single one mourned. Instead, each one mourned how their father’s death would affect their own lives, financially for most. The murderer himself shows no remorse during or after the murder, despite not being premeditated, but rather rejoices at the new freedom it would bring him.
Though a bit wordy in some parts, the novel provides an altogether satisfactory reading experience. Portrait of a Murderer is a short, quick read for anyone who loves a good mystery set during the holidays.
Portrait of a Murderer (1933) – Anne Meredith
Poisoned Pen Press; ARC e-book
Personal rating: 2/5