Review – Portrait of a Murderer

Posted November 24, 2019 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Portrait of a Murderer by Anne MeredithPortrait of a Murderer, Anne Meredith

I think there’s only one other British Library Crime Classic that I seriously considered just… not finishing, so this book isn’t in the most ideal of company. It opens with the murder, very quickly reveals the murderer, and then goes on to fill in the details of the murderer’s frame of mind, subsequent actions, and eventual end. The ‘portrait’ is both what the book itself does and a plot point… and also mostly why I dislike the book. The murderer in question is to be sympathised with (as the introduction claims), but I can’t find any sympathy for a man who expresses this sort of sentiment:

It was ridiculous, it was pathetic, it was abominably wrong that a man capable of such work should be grinding out his life in a draughtsman’s office.

Yes, we get it, you’re an artist, that’s nice. That doesn’t make you a saint or entitle you to anything. But the narrative sort of agrees with him, with the more sympathetic members of the family being very sorry for him that he’s going to be caught. He’s abusive to his wife, neglectful of his child, kills his father in a rage, forges himself a cheque to take his father’s money, and then cold-bloodedly frames an innocent man (not a good man, but innocent of the crime of murder at least)… but we’re supposed to see his eventual death as a tragedy.

Nooope. Not down with this. Do not pass go, do not collect £2,000 as the winnings of murder, do not try to claim murder is ever justified in this facile way.

The writing itself isn’t bad, though occasionally tending towards the purple and/or grandiose (though the latter is appropriate when writing from the murderer’s POV), but the choice of where the narrative’s sympathies lie… nope nope nope nope nope.

Rating: 2/5

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2 responses to “Review – Portrait of a Murderer

  1. It takes real skill to make the reader empathise with a wrong ‘un (Patricia Highsmith springs to mind) but it sounds like Anne Meredith is just not in the same class. It’s a No from me too.

    • I’ve known it work and make the reader complicit in a really masterful way, but in this case, nah. The dude’s killed his father and tried to frame his brother-in-law for the crime, and his excuse is that he’s an artist so he… deserves it? For the sake of good art?

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