Murder has several sub-categories: there’s the Crime of Passion, murders for monetary gain, murders for revenge, and the list goes on. When the victim is known to the murderer, naturally, the possibility of motive (or motives) can help solve the case. So the dilemma arises, then– how to murder someone if it’s obvious that you are the most likely culprit?
Edward Powell lives with his Aunt Mildred just outside of the Welsh town of Llwll (which Edward pronounces ‘Filth.’) Edward prefers Surrey, but if he could choose to live anywhere, he would move abroad. The novel opens with snobbish, pretentious Edward launching into a long vitriolic attack on Wales.
There is a high street. It has a post office, from which the letters are occasionally deviled and occasionally not–some grocers, dealing almost entirely in tinned food of the most elementary and obvious kind at fifty per cent more than the proper price; and some butchers, selling mainly New Zealand lamb, Danish bacon and Argentine beef, which is ridiculous in a countryside which, whatever its defects, is full of sheep–peculiarly stupid sheep–and very inquisitive pigs.
There’s one cinema in town but Edward does “not consent to be seen” there as the locals smell. But then does Edward like anything? Yes he does, he loves leisure, loves his car which is named “La Joyeuse,” loves his Pekingese So-So, and loves his French novels
Edward and his Aunt Mildred are more like each other than they’d care to admit, and the two embark on a contest of wills concerning Edward’s smutty (according to his Aunt) French novels. Edward wants the latest shipment delivered to his aunt’s house and she wants him to start hoofing it to town to pick up the package. A power struggle ensues over petrol with Edward planning to siphon petrol from his Aunt’s car, but she’s so intent on making him walk, that she actually siphons the petrol off herself.
With just a tiny amount of petrol salvaged from his Aunt’s sabotage attempts, Edward tries to drive to the town and then is forced, when the car runs out of petrol, to walk. He realises that he’s the laughing-stock of the townspeople and is so angry, he swears he will kill his Aunt. This is where Edward’s problems take a turn: how can he kill his Aunt, who is both the guardian and trustee of the family nestegg, when he is her heir, and her death will, naturally, leave him as the only suspect? Edward reasons that her death must be an ‘accident,’ and so he proceeds to create one … or two …or three.
The story is mostly narrated, unreliably, by Edward, so we get his side of things: his victimhood, his loathing of all things Welsh, etc, and yet reading between the lines, Edward is a lazy, good-for-nothing, who sponges off his Aunt. She wants him to get a job, horror of horrors, which he feels is “degrading,” although he toys with the idea of being a poet. At one point in the book I thought that Edward’s sole redeeming feature was his love for his Pekingese So-So, but one of my favourite sayings is : “sometimes you don’t want to be the object of someone’s affection,” and this is certainly the case with poor So-So, so reader beware. I think the passages concerning So-So’s involvement with one of the fabricated accidents is meant to be ‘funny,’ but it really isn’t.
The book presents a ‘pressure cooker’ murder (a term I use to describe a murder that is created by enforced proximity–a situation so intense that murder of one of the parties seems to be the only solution–when it isn’t in fact. The real solution is that one of the parties involved should move away … asap.) For its structure the novel is sound, and its psychological aspects fascinating, but it is a mostly interior tale which involves Edward’s long complaints: Wales, his aunt, the locals, etc. They all get a sound whipping, and while these passages are witty and entertaining, the lack of action makes the novel drag at some points. Plus I can’t forgive the incident with So-So.