“The particulars of the offence alleged against you are that you, Rupert Laurence Anderson, on the fifth day of October, 1949, in the county of York, murdered Robert Hemsley Anderson.”
Rupert Laurence Anderson, a small and delicate looking eighteen year old – in whose mouth butter wouldn’t merely remain solid but might positively freeze – pleads Not Guilty: but it is not really much of a spoiler to go right ahead and say that he absolutely is. Because ‘Reputation for a Song’ (one of the – many, many – books brought to my attention by Martin Edwards’ ‘The story of classic crime in 100 books’) is not a whodunnit, but an inverted crime, mostly concerned with exploring the motivations behind a murder: what mystery there is, is in the question ‘will he get away with it?’.
There are essentially two parts to the book. The background of the Anderson family, which slowly fills us in on the details of an initially stern-seeming but well-intentioned father, who has become isolated from and despised by most of his family; a dominating and manipulative mother, whose self-love, need for control and frustrated ambitions have warped both her and , through her, her children; her idle and entitled son; a good natured elder daughter, sole ally to her father; and a practically invisible middle sister, who is unimportant to the plot except as being an occasional stick for Laura Anderson to beat her husband and less-loved daughter with.
This part is a family drama, full of the power plays and small tragedies of a family in which love has become largely corrupted into possession, frustration, bitterness and hatred.
The other part follows the court procedures and the machinations behind the scenes on both sides to convict or to exonerate Rupert Anderson. And, in the end, it becomes a straight out battle between right and wrong, good and evil. As the title suggests, it is a battle for the reputation of a man.
The story is well-written and absorbing, with the characters mostly well-realised and nuanced and the detail convincing. The court scenes in particular are compelling with small touches of humour:
“ ‘Good, good!’ said Sir David, hitching up his gown. Like so many counsel he treated his wigs and robes as very useful tools of the trade and by recourse to them could express bewilderment, confidence, disbelief, pity, anger and a dozen other emotions equally useful and dramatic. Nothing was duller, as he realised, than a voice, however beautiful, however perfectly modulated, booming and droning on and, as counsel were debarred from standing on their heads and indulging in other such methods of keeping the attention of the jury, they must fall back on this wig scratching and gown twisting, the only alternatives available to them.”
Despite the murderer being known from the start there are a few interesting twists to the tale that maintain interest to the end. Recommended to inverted crime fans.
As this’ll be the last post before January, hope everyone has a great Christmas and may you all be inundated with books, rare and mysterious.