"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.So far, so familiar. A bunch of boorish, entitled relatives gather in the home of their insufferable patriarch for a bitter and resentful Christmas. The Grays are a formerly wealthy family on the way down, financially. *Just how* far down is revealed quite early on.
This fascinating and unusual novel tells the story of what happened that dark Christmas night; and what the murderer did next."
His offspring are, as ever, after money; politician Richard, an MP whose heart set on a Lordship whatever the cost- he is hemorrhaging money on pointless luxuries in an attempt to impress people into bestowing a lordship on him. Impoverished and despised artist Brand, the family embarrassment, who wants a pay-off to unceremoniously dump his urchin-like family and migrate to Paris to top up his painting inspiration. Eustace, the dodgy financier is married to Adrian's daughter Olivia. They need a substantial sum to buy their way out of sticky imminent legal proceedings and presumed ruin. Murder victim Gray has made a number of very questionable business arrangements via his thoroughly dodgy Son in Law and both are on the brink of ruin. Cringing spinster Amy has never left home and resentfully runs the house on the meager allowance her skinflint father allows her. Isobel, a waif-like ghost of the woman she once was is home permanently following the failure of her marriage. Only Ruth, the youngest child, seems happy. Ruth and her lawyer husband, Miles are the only ones satisfied with their Middle Class lifestyle, content with each other, and neither want anything from Adrian. As the snow falls and Christmas eve becomes Christmas day, one of the family will murder Adrian.
What I liked about this novel was how thoroughly and unapologitically horrible most of the characters were. With the exception of Miles, who only really gets anything to do in the last 20%. I don't know if contemporary audiences would have found them any more appealing to be honest, though the Anti-Semetism might have been less of a contributing factor.
The book is not really a whodunit, as we watch the murder happen. It is more of a study of the psychology of murder, and of the mental intricacies and whims of a murderer. It examines the intellect, the temperament and the awareness required to try and pull off a deception. In this way it reminded me a little of Hitchcock's early masterpiece Rope, which is one of his undeservedly forgotten offerings. The murderer is thorough, calculated and ruthless, painstakingly laying traps and planting evidence to implicate another for their crime. Maybe they aren't capable of pre-mediated murder, but post-murder manipulation seems to be right up their street. The murderer impressively acts the part of the surprised but not terribly sad offspring as the news of Adrian Gray's death is broken over the festive Breakfast Table. It's more a story of trying to get away with murder, than working out who committed it. However, that is the role assigned to lawyer Miles, the man that has to pick through the events of that night, the inaccuracies, the accusations, the possibilities, the sequences of events and the opportunities.
I found the pace a little slow going, and the unpleasantness of most of the characters does not make it a speedy read. There are elements, notably the way Jewish individuals are characterised and talked about that leaves a nasty impression (plus, the vague suggestion that should an entitled white aristocrat find themselves doing a bit of unplanned murdering, it can easily and conveniently be blamed on the nearest available Jew is a bit ick). I suppose it hasn't aged well, really, and the author may have let their own disdainful prejudices colour their narrative slightly.
I didn't rate it as highly as Murder in White, and though the psychological pondering about how life might be from the perspective of a murderer is interesting and distinguishes the story perhaps from others of a similar theme, it left me mostly nonplussed and quite pleased to be finished. I've now moved on to the Silent Nights, a collection of short detective stories from the same series, and honestly, it's much better.