Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Belting Inheritance - Julian Symons

First published 1965; cover shown is the 1970 Corgi Books (UK) paperback edition. 190 pages.

Christopher Barrington goes to live at the imposing Belting mansion when he is orphaned at the age of 12. Living with the elderly and autocratic Lady Wainwright, a distant relation, and her adult children Miles and Stephen, Chris grows to maturity with a respect for Lady W and a disliking for his Uncle Stephen and his wife, Clarissa.

It isn't until Chris is 18 that his views of Lady W change, and his naive outlook on life will never be the same. Lady W's health worsens, and shortly afterwards a letter arrives, purporting to be from David, one of her two eldest sons, both missing in action during WWII and presumed dead.

Miles, Stephen and Clarissa do all they can to stop "David" from visiting Belting, but visit he does. They are all adamant he is an impostor, but Lady W - pleased that one of her favourites has come home - believes his story at once. Chris, the narrator of the novel, tries to remain impartial... but after a number of tests and days of questioning he, too, believes the David at Belting is not who he says he is.

When David realises his story will be believed by no one - and after the butler at Belting has been murdered, following on from a murder a decade earlier which the real David is thought to be responsible for - he disappears from the house under cover of darkness. Chris uses his newly discovered knack at detecting to follow David to France, where he encounters a new world of drug use, homosexuality and (strangely enough) puppetry.

When it's time for the final denouement, most readers will have correctly figured out who David really is. But this didn't detract from the enjoyment of the novel for me - it was exceedingly well written, and the best Symons work I've read so far.

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