I picked up this book on a whim – I mean, face it, Let’s Kill Uncle is a great title and the red cover is pretty striking.
Then I discovered it was written in 1963 and, I confess, I almost put it back. This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy novels written 50 years ago, but it crossed my mind that it could be very dated.
Then I saw a quote from Donna Tartt, who wrote one of my favourite books ever – deliciously dark The Secret History. That sealed it for me.
The basic plot of Let’s Kill Uncle is about a young boy and heir to a $10m fortune, Barnaby Gaunt, who ends up on an isolated Canadian island one summer, and decides to murder his uncle, with the help of new friend Christie, before his uncle can get to him first.
I needn’t have worried about it being dated. Yes, it’s set not long after the end of WW2, but that adds to the atmosphere and the plot – the local Mountie, Albert Coulter is a former war-hero – because with the development of the technology, it’s inconceivable that the island’s isolation would work in 2010.
In fact, the clever part of Let’s Kill Uncle is the way that the island itself is like a step back in time. There’s no-one else young living on the island and most of the inhabitants have spent their entire life there, lending the whole book a kind of dream-like existence.
Add to the mix, a philosophizing one-eared cougar, an assorted cast of quirky locals who all have their own sad tale to tell, the almost comic-book villain in the shape of the eponymous ‘Uncle’, plus the beautifully sketched 10-year-olds Barnaby and Christie, and you have a book that keeps you gripped from the outset.
This is no page-turner in the mould of Lee Child or Patricia Cornwell. There are no tales of derring-do, grisly murders to unearth, or staccato, machine-gun-fire prose. Instead, Let’s Kill Uncle relies on good old-fashioned story-telling, with well-written characters, a beautiful turn of phrase and a plot that guarantees you want to keep reading.
It’s astonishing that Rohan O’Grady is not better-known. A quick search leads me to discover that it is the pen-name for a Canadian novelist called June Skinner, who was ‘rediscovered’ in 2009, following a journalist’s attempts to discover what became of the author of Let’s Kill Uncle.
Although they are worlds apart, if you love The Secret History, then Let’s Kill Uncle should appeal to you.