Crime Fiction Alphabet: V is for A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine

Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet series moves towards the end of the alphabet and has now reached the letter ‘V’.

A Fatal Inversion was first published in 1987 and was reissued in 2009 by Penguin Books.

Although about a group of not very likeable characters I was drawn into the world of this mystery. In 1976 Adam, a university student of 19 inherited Wyvis Hall from his great-uncle. He stayed there for a while that hot summer with a group of young people. Something tragic and terrible happened which led to them leaving the house and eventually Adam sold it. Then ten years later the current owners, whilst burying their pet dog in the animal cemetery in the woods, find the bones of a young woman and a baby. The police are seeking previous owners of the Hall to identify the bodies.

It’s a complicated plot told in flashbacks, seen from mainly three of the characters’ viewpoints – Adam, his friend, Rufus, a medical student, and Shiva, a British Indian. Shiva and his friend Vivian had thought they were joining a commune whereas with no money Adam was just keen to get others to contribute. They are reduced to selling his uncle’s silver for food and drugs and after Zosie’s arrival to stealing to support themselves. I thought the characterisation was good and the setting excellent – a grand old house, out in the Suffolk countryside surrounded by dark, dense and menacing pine woods, ‘the kind of place you saw in story-book illustrations or even in your dreams and out of which things were liable to come creeping.’

I wasn’t sure at first who the victims were, but the killer soon becomes obvious. I thought it a clever book, with clues dropped casually, so that I had to read it carefully. The plot covers a number of issues – family relationships, friendship, loyalty, race and class discrimination, the consequences of our actions and above all the nature of evil and guilt.  The ending is most satisfying, such a neat inversion, I thought.