Robert Barnard: Death by Sheer Torture
1st in Perry Trethowan series : 1981

>>Robert Barnard presents the Trethowan family,
an eccentric clan that prides itself on nonconformity.
In fact, Perry Trethowan, a young police inspector, is
the only family member to have broken with tradition.
Although the Trethowans disdain his normal lifestyle,
they find his services helpful when they discover
Perry’s father on a bizarre torture machine – murdered.<<
(publisher’s blurb).

It is probably an exaggeration to call the Trethowan books
a series. Barnard has never been very much interested in
the construction of series characters and the five books
which are described as Trethowan ones include the worst
Barnard I have read (Bodies). This, while far from Barnard
at his best, is an engaging enough romp. It is, in large part,
a parody of the Country House murder. The country house
in question is Harpenden House, home to a collection of
mad, bad and sad Trethowans from which Perry fled some
14 years before this book occurs. The murder itself follows
a classic pattern and its solution is blindingly obvious when
revealed – I wasn’t paying much attention preferring to
enjoy Barnard’s wit, but I imagine an assiduous reader
would have no problems.
Barnard’s learning is wide and I am sure that I missed a lot
of the references which he makes – one other obvious target
are the Mitfords (probably slightly unfairly but still funny) –
the funniest character is Aunt Kate ‘who used to spend
her summers attending Nuremberg rallies and consorting with
Hitler’s Madchen in Bavarian work camps – some sort of
Butlins plus ideology…..They interned her in Holloway
during the war.’ (Unity and Diana Mitford impaled).
The best joke in the book is that Kate unexpectedly approves
of Perry’s working-class wife because her father was a
house-painter! But as I say I no doubt missed a lot of references – especially as I have not read Butler’s Way of All Flesh which is at the centre
of the literary jokes.
Highly ephemeral but a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

(December 2007)