Christopher Barrington comes to live with the Wainwright family at their home Belting in southern Kent when he’s 12, following the death of his parents in a plane crash. The family is dominated by Lady Wainwright, Christopher’s great-aunt only surviving relative. The boy knows it’s something of an odd family; Lady Wainwright still mourns the loss of her two older sons, Hugh and David, in World War II; her two younger sons, Stephen and Miles. Completing the family is Clarissa, Stephen’s wife, who seems far more interested in her dogs than anything else.
The years pass. Now 18, Christopher completes school and wins a scholarship to Oxford. Lady Wainwright is aging and increasingly unwell, and Miles and Stephen seem to be waiting for her to die to get their inheritance. And then a letter arrives, from a man purporting to be David Wainwright, his mother’s favorite who was shot down in a bombing raid in Germany and presumed dead. The letter is soon followed by the man himself. Stephen and Miles don’t believe the man is David, while Lady Wainwright accepts him immediately and moves to rewrite her will.
And then there’s murder.
The Belting Inheritance was first published by Julian Symons in 1965, and remains one of the best examples of the “return from dead” mystery novel. It’s been republished as part of the British Library’s Crime Classic Series, and it’s an excellent story.
Symons (1912-1994) was a well-known mystery and crime writer, poet, literary critic, and biographer. He wrote some 29 mystery novels, several short story collections, and a veritable host of non-fiction works, including studies of Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, and many other subjects.
Well-written and well-plotted, The Belting Inheritance is Symons at the top of his crime-writing career.