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, divided into 7 parts begins on Christmas day, with the Gray children coming from different parts of the country to spend Christmas at their ancestral home in the country, with their father, Adrian Gray, as per family tradition. Adrian Gray’s children are made up of Amy, his eldest daughter, a spinster living in the manor whose responsibility it was to look after him and the household; Olivia, married to Eustace Moore, who was a financier, and who handled Adrian Gray’s money and investments; Isobel, a divorcee, Hildebrand or Brand, for short, the artist, and black sheep of the family; Ruth, married to Miles Amery, a lawyer; and Richard, an up-and-coming politician with his eyes on a peerage, married to Laura, a once well-known socialite. Though home for the holidays, the group felt little cheer in their father’s house, and toward each other. Most of them, the men especially had ulterior motives for visiting their father for Christmas, money being the number one concern.
As the family gathers for Christmas breakfast, they notice belatedly that their father has not come down to join them. Later, they discover him in the library, dead, seemingly from a stroke. Only after they have called the doctor do 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, dedicated to how the murder was done, by whom, and why. The murderer also presents here his thoughts and feelings, and how he planned to avoid the blame by framing another member of the family. Parts 3-7 of the novel tackles the family’s discovery of the murder, the events after the crime, including the reactions and problems of all 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, not totally convinced of the real murderer’s innocence and the framed man’s guilt, with the accidental help from a former servant of Adrian Gray’s manor, helps solve the mystery by identifying the real murderer.
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 for the sake of losing their beloved father. Rather, each one mourned the loss of their father and how it would affect their own lives – financially for most of them. The murderer himself showed no remorse during or after the murder, though not premeditated, but rather rejoiced at the new freedom it would bring him.
Though a bit wordy in some parts, the novel provided an altogether satisfactory reading experience. Portrait of a Murderer is a short, quick, read for anyone who loves a good mystery during the holidays.
Portrait of a Murderer (1933) – Anne Meredith
Poisoned Pen Press; ARC e-book
Personal rating: 2/5