J.F. Straker – Goodbye, Aunt Charlotte (1958)

Another ‘village mystery’ with the same,
rather anonymous, policeman, Inspector
Pitt, as in Murder for Miss Emily.

The basic premise of the book is good;
five friends, four young men and one young
woman, who have been playing various practical
jokes in the village, plan to take their jokes one
stage further. When Aunt Charlotte goes to
London they will leave a series of clues suggesting
that something has gone wrong – she has eloped,
been kidnapped etc.. Of course in the event Aunt
Charlotte, who has made enemies of not just these
five characters but their parents as well, is murdered.
(I am sure I have encountered this plot in other
books but cannot immediately bring any to mind
– suggestions from more learned list members?).

The sub-plot concerns the young woman, Elizabeth,
who is Aunt Charlotte’s niece and heiress, and her
romantic choices. Not that this is a romantic sub-plot –
it is tied into the crime. But Straker rather loses his way
and there is too much story and too little detection.

As with Murder for Miss Emily there is one interesting
aspect to the book; in this case however Straker does
not develop the theme. The reason why Elizabeth hates
her Aunt is not, as the village supposes, because the Aunt
is cruel, but because the Aunt has a lesbian passion for her.
Not that the word lesbian is used but this is made explicit.
I am interested by this because of the time the book was
written (1958). It strikes me that Straker wanted to write
in the GA tradition, but he also wanted to be ‘modern’
(of course his modernity appears hopelessly outdated
now). I am thinking about other writers who started
at about this time or slightly later like James (1962)
and Rendell (1964). I am not trying to suggest that
Straker belongs in their company in terms of quality!!
He certainly does not. But there is something about
their early work – which works within the tradition and
yet is trying for modernity. And a modernity which
was itself problematic as social upheaval was,
as it were, just around the corner.

(April 2007)