ROBERT BARNARD – Death of a Mystery Writer. Inspector Meredith #1. Charles Scribners Sons, US, hardcover, 1979. Dell, Scene of the Crime Mystery #4, paperback, October 1980. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1978, as Unruly Son.

   I do not know how common this phenomenon is, but this is one of those mysteries in which the victim simply takes over the first part of the book and makes it his own. Famed mystery writer Oliver Farleigh-Stubbs is such an individual. Grossly overweight but definitely lord of his own manor, the man delights in being outrageously outrageous.

   By which he loves to make monstrous accusations (some of which are right-on accurate), decry the foibles of his family and friends (those that he has), defame his fellow mystery writers and their craft (to the delight of readers and dedicated fans alike), and in general makes himself a boorish center of shock and disgust or even outright hatred, whenever he walks into a room.

   That he will be the victim of a well-planned murder comes as no surprise, even without the hint given by the American title. But when he dies, all of the air is sucked out of the room, so to speak. The members of his surviving family, their servants, and the staff at his publishing company, formerly butts of all his deliberate rudeness — none of them are as interesting as he was. Not an ounce of real personality to any of them, at least not in comparison.

   A statement of relative blandness which also includes Inspector Meredith, a colorless man whose job it is to determine who it was who slipped the victim a fatal dose of nicotine poison. The killer may be easy to determine by the reader, and perhaps even the means by which he did the deed, but why? For his/her reason, you will have to wait for Meredith to explain.

   The post-murder half of the book is not bad, mind you. Robert Barnard is a better writer than that, but all in all, the end result is a decidedly uneven affair — there’s no getting around it.

PostScript:   Inspector Meredith made a second appearance several years later in At Death’s Door (Collins, 1988), which I have not read.