The British Library Crime Classics are a series of books edited by Martin Edwards which are mainly novels both famous and assumed lost from the golden age of British Crime. This means that more than often you will find stereotypes and even more than often, links, crosses and similarities between them. This does not mean that they are badly written for, at the time, there were certain tropes that were part of popular fiction. The golden age of crime is a wide and expansive time and place of novels with the most obvious ranging from Agatha Christie and across the water there was Dashiell Hammett, all the way down to a woman I have never heard of: Christianna Brand.
This novel entitled Suddenly at his Residence is about a man named Sir Richard Marsh who has dedicated some sort of shrine to his first wife, Serafita despite marrying his mistress shortly after his first wife's death. Every year on the anniversary of her death, Sir Richard expects his own relatives to come around for a ceremony in her honour. He then spends his night alone in the place where she had passed away.
On this anniversary, the house is occupied by the mistress-wife, Bella and the various grandchildren of the first and second marriages of Sir Richard Marsh. All of the characters, I assure you are wholly and utterly unlikeable. They are resentful, backstabbing and yet, incredibly complex. Affairs, plots and oddities bubble beneath the sruface of the grandchildren's lives whilst neuroticism and jealousy threaten to tear everyone apart. And with this many grandchildren with such horrible personalities, there is only one thing that they care about: the will.
Though they seem to get on, there are some definite tensions between certain characters and though they are unlikeable, they are written well into the story - each serving a very specific purpose. Whilst Richard remains the patriarchal leader, a sort of tyrant over the family, the grandchildren and their actions are understood as trying to get the best for themselves in this horrific situation. So, yes, there is another side to it that makes you think a bit about the family dynamics. Everyone may be just a product of their surroundings.
The only character I think I did not like all too much was the Inspector, ironically enough. I found Inspector Cockrill to be bland, a bit boring in comparison to the other characters but then again, I think that is the way he was meant to be to make sure that the other characters stand out a bit more. Though he was not completely and utterly unreadable, he just didn't seem like much of a character in comparison to others. I would actually say that I know more about the dead first wife than I do about the Inspector and could probably identify her as a character more.
One of the downsides of this book is that it is playing with stereotypes a bit too closely and somehow, that can make the text seem a little predictable in places. Especially towards the second half of the book, we tend to get more melodramatic tension, stuff that seems a little shallow regarding the circumstances. This alongside the fact that the Inspector does not actually do anything credible apart from annoying the living daylights out of the other characters until they simply cave in makes for this book to be a little bit problematic when it comes to giving it a good mark. This was quite posisbly the only real big downside to the book and everything else, though it is a bit back and forth, can be rationalised and understood.
All in all, the characters have good tensions and breaks in it, the dynamics of the family are well written, the idea was definitely there and the shadow of the dead first wife looms over the plot more and more as it progresses. But, I do have to say that the Inspector was a big let down in the fact that he does not really have much of a character and he does not do anything groundbreaking in the case. Rather, he simply overtalks, does some interrogation and annoys people. This is why I can only award this book half marks.