Christopher Barrington, the narrator of Julian Symons’ frequently twee mystery The Belting Inheritance, has a complicated relationship with his family. It’s not the kind of complicated relationship we usually see in fiction. Christopher has a fairly good relationship with Lady W and his uncles; it’s only when he’s older that he learns that very few people actually like the Wainwrights of Belting. He also learns, when a possible long-lost relative returns, that the Wainwrights are their own worst enemies.
Christopher begins his narrative in a way reminiscent of Tristam Shandy. It takes him a long time to get to the point. This may annoy some readers, but the opening of The Belting Inheritance sets up the quirkiness and eccentricity of the Wainwrights. Uncle Myles has the mind of a crossword puzzler. Lady Wainright and Uncle Stephen seem like stock characters from Dickens. Aunt Clarissa and her bull terriers are also from central casting. Christopher seems to be headed towards caricature himself when a man claiming to be one of his uncles, David, believed to have died after being shot down over Germany in 1944, sends a letter to Belting. The letter sets the cat among the pigeons. Lady W is over the moon, but her sons are very much not happy at the thought that their mother is being duped and that their inheritance might be even more diminished. Everyone’s problems get that much worse when the “lost uncle” turns up with a shady lawyer in tow and Christopher trips over a corpse the very next day.
After the corpse appears in the shrubbery at Belting, self-described aesthete Christopher develops “detective fever.” He starts asking his own questions alongside the police. It’s lucky for Christopher that he meets Elaine Sullivan fairly early in his investigation. Elaine is much more savvy than Christopher is, having grow up outside of the strange Belting bubble. Not only did she grow up in the real world, Elaine has some actual experience asking questions and putting the answers together from her work with a small newspaper in Folkestone. Christopher hilariously looses his head when he and Elaine follow the clues tying the mysterious, possibly faux uncle and not just one but two murders over the Channel to France. Thankfully, Elaine keeps him from drifting into a someone’s art project as the clues start to come together on a sea of pastis in Christopher’s brain.
The Belting Inheritance is another re-published mid-twentieth century mystery and, as such, bears some of the hallmarks of the genre: fiendish puzzles, plenty of surprising reveals, etc. That said, this novel is far from a masterpiece. It’s overly complicated. Christopher’s narration seems more interested in creating little character studies and obscure jokes than anything else. Readers who don’t like twee novels should probably avoid this book; it is unbearably silly at times. Readers who like lateral thinking and possess an English public school education will feel right at home with this novel, even if it does wrap up too neatly at the end.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.