“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 crime was instantaneous and unpremeditated, and the murderer was left staring from the weapon on the table to the dead man in the shadow of the tapestry curtains, not apprehensive, not yet afraid, but incredulous and dumb.”
Portrait of a Murderer, originally published in 1933, was written by Anne Meredith, a pseudonym for Lucy Beatrice Malleson, who also wrote under the names J. Kilmeny Keith and Anthony Gilbert. It has been labeled as “A Christmas Crime Story”, but as Martin Edward’s states in his introduction, it is really more of a “bleak midwinter” tale.
Being an inverted detective story, we discover, almost from the beginning, who the murderer is, and what follows is a beautifully written psychological tale in which Meredith reveals the mind of the murderer. The passages in which she describes the justification for the act, the fixing of evidence to lay blame at someone else’s door, and total lack of remorse in the aftermath, are chilling.
The writing is vividly descriptive and evocative. I was struck by Sergeant Ross Murray’s description of the Manor, “like some accursed building…an aloof appearance, as if it were for ever cut off from the friendly companionship of man…narrow and furtive…a sinister and somehow dishonest aspect”, seems more a description of the family and their relationships than a mere building.
What’s truly interesting is that I loved the book, but I found the characters to be repugnant. Gray is filled with avarice to the extreme, his children are money grubbing, hypocritical, and selfish. Even those who we know to be innocent of the crime are in no way blameless. Again Meredith uses Sergeant Murray when he conveys his thoughts regarding the family, “Rather his dejection was due to a certain sense of inhumanity and irritation that the house seemed to exude…Goodness knows, the dead are forgotten soon enough…here somehow there’s a feeling that all these people care about is their own future and its prospects.” And by the end, through their actions, we find that not one of them comes out innocent.
This was a book that enthralled me. I found it a fascinating and entertaining read which I highly recommend.
Others have previously reviewed this book, probably better than I.
And lastly, my favorite quote from the book –
“More murders are committed by accident than anyone except doctors and lawyers guess. Though the consequences are the same in both cases – violent death for both parties.” – Doctor Romford