A Testament To Murder (2019) by Vivian Conroy

The French Riviera in the 1920s, and Malcolm Bryce-Rutherford is dying. He has summoned his potential heirs but seems to have no preference as to who should inherit his wealth. So he announces his plan to the gathered ensemble – every night, at midnight, he will change his will in favour of a single heir, one of those present. But he will not announce who the heir for the day is.

Thus begins an exercise in murderous game theory – should someone kill Malcolm and try and get away with it? Or frame someone else for it? As the deaths begin, luckily nearby ex-Inspector Jasper is on hand…

From the blurb for the book – “perfect for fans of And Then There Were NoneMurder on the Orient Express, and Crooked House” – that’s a brave statement. Compare your book to the Queen of Crime’s most highly regarded works and you are bound to come up short. This is the second book I’ve seen recently that compares itself to And Then There Were None – seriously, stop doing that. For almost any book, the comparison is going to be “Not as good as And Then There Were None” or “It reminded me a bit of that much better book And Then There Were None.” I don’t recall a single title that would envoke “On a par with And Then There Were None”.

Plotwise, this is nicely convoluted, although the pacing is off, the first crime only happening after the halfway mark. The first half consists of the guests plotting and counter-plotting with and against each other as to the best way forward concerning Malcolm’s bonkers plan. No one seems to mind the thought of murdering him, and one character assumes that there is a killer before anyone gets killed. The characters act as if they know they are in a murder mystery, which adds a level of unreality to the whole thing.

Meanwhile, Inspector Jasper shows up and, I think, pretty much guesses the solution. There’s so much going on in the second half of the book that a large page count, or a shorter pre-murder section would have worked better. There’s a case to be made against any of the characters, and there’s an odd section where Jasper takes his time to do exactly that. I do understand why he does it, but he does it in such an accusatory way, I’m not sure why anyone listens to him when he gets round to the actual killer, which I think most readers would have spotted by now anyway.

And the final revelation… I read a book once where the murderer spends about eighteen months claiming sanctuary in a church while pretending to be insane. That’s nothing compared to the commitment made by the villain in this book.

There are some clever ideas here, but they are undermined by the pacing. Everything revealed at the end is mentioned earlier in the book, so the clueing is there. Fans of classic detective fiction may well enjoy the complex plot, but that’s not what Dame Agatha was about – her plots were beautifully simple while misdirecting at the same time. Still, this is a bargain on ebook, so why not give it a go?

Oh, I’ve no idea what a “Murder Will Follow” Mystery is, but this is the first in a series, so you haven’t missed anything.

Availability: Out now on ebook only.

2 comments

  1. A shame that this didn’t turn out to be any better… It would have been delightful to uncover a new series of classic mysteries written by a living author – they are a near extinct breed. 😑

    Liked by 1 person

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