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Heir Presumptive

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 9 months ago

Wade, Henry - Heir Presumptive (1935)



Review by Nick Fuller


Surely one of the best inverted stories ever written. The reader sees the hunt from the other side—sees the systematic extermination of a series of heirs through the eyes of the oddly sympathetic murderer, Eustace Hendel, driven to commit his crimes by a love of money, and an over-riding woman—like Macbeth, he is weak and opportunistic, rather than deliberately malevolent. Despite a reference to the “inferiority complex” on p. 130, it is heartening to see that “psychology” is avoided, and that the murderer has a genuine motive: “Succession to the peerage and estates! How magnificent it sounded. It meant Jill and comfort and money to play with and position—the House of Lords!” Eustace kills his cousin David during a most suspenseful deer-stalk in Scotland. It is pleasing to note that the victims are well-chosen: the first, David, is distinctly unlikeable (or are we merely seeing him from Eustace’s biased point-of-view?), while the second, his son Desmond, is very sympathetic, forcing Eustace to attempt to justify the act: “After all, he had got to die before very long anyhow and it would really be a kindness to put him out quietly and quickly now; brae and cheerful as he was, life could be no great pleasure to him. Yes, really a kindness; nothing to regret at all.” Eustace that is cruel, is yet merciful. In the end, Eustace doesn’t have to murder Desmond (a relief, because “he would have given anything to turn away from it, but the alternative was ruin”)—because someone else gets there before him. This neatly combines the attractions of the inverted story with those of the detective story proper; and the book finishes with a brilliant and powerful twist ending.

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