I didn’t think I had anything suitable to read for Paula’s Reading Wales Month, then I discovered that Anthony Rolls (a pseudonym of Colwyn Edward Vulliamy) was a Welsh author born in Glasbury, Radnorshire in 1886. He wrote several crime novels under the Anthony Rolls name, two of which are available as British Library Crime Classics – and luckily I had one of them, Scarweather, on my TBR.
Originally published in 1934, Scarweather is narrated by John Farringdale, who is a young man of twenty-one when the story begins in 1913. Farringdale has always been close to his cousin Eric, so when Eric meets the famous archaeologist Professor Tolgen Reisby, he can’t wait to introduce Farringdale to him. Although Farringdale is proud to see his cousin on good terms with such a renowned and impressive man as the Professor, he feels uneasy about Eric’s obvious interest in Reisby’s young wife, Hilda. When an opportunity arises to visit the Reisbys himself at their home, Scarweather, in the north of England, he accepts the invitation and heads north, taking his friend, Frederick Ellingham, with him.
All appears to be well at Scarweather and Farringdale wonders whether he has been worrying unnecessarily, but Ellingham, being older and more perceptive than his friend, hints that the Professor may not be all he seems. And so when Eric disappears, believed to have been involved in a sailing accident, Ellingham decides to investigate. However, war soon breaks out in Europe, meaning that the investigation will take a lot longer than expected. We rejoin the characters fifteen years later, when it seems that the secrets of Scarweather are about to be revealed at last!
Scarweather is an unusual mystery novel, because there’s really no mystery at all. The solution is obvious to the reader from early on – in fact, Farringdale himself remarks once or twice that he supposes we’ve already guessed the truth. There are no clever twists, no real surprises and very little ‘detecting’. Ellingham and Farringdale are clearly a Holmes and Watson pairing, with Ellingham in the role of Holmes, but because we only see him through the eyes of Farringdale – who seems to be completely oblivious to everything that is going on – we don’t get a chance to watch any of his detective work or hear much about his theories until the very end of the book. And the ending, when it comes, seems very morally questionable.
Yet, despite all of this, I still think this book is worth reading, particularly if you’re more interested in archaeology than I am. Rolls’ writing really comes alive whenever he moves onto the subject of archaeologists and their work; this was obviously a passion of his and something he was very knowledgeable about. There’s also a strong sense of place: Scarweather is located in a remote coastal area and the harshness of the landscape and the sea makes the setting an atmospheric one. Even though knowing the solution to the mystery takes away all the suspense, there’s still a feeling of darkness and foreboding.
Although I didn’t love this book, I would be happy to read more by Anthony Rolls. The other book of his published as a British Library Crime Classic, Family Matters, sounds better than this one.