Given how few modern mystery writers tackle the Locked Room form, when I learned about The Patricide (and after trying the sample on Amazon) I was excited to give it a go.
The story concerns the Lafarge family and their estate in the French countryside. The father, Patrice, is concerned that after his death his children will seek to monetize every aspect of their lands, destroying their natural beauty, so he has determined that he will alter his will to create a trust that will bind their actions after his death. His children have long since moved away, to his considerable disappointment, and so he decides to request they all return home for his seventy-fifth birthday so he can share the news.
His children are naturally resentful of this change of plans and, when Patrice refuses to confirm that he has already taken the steps necessary to set up the trust his death seems inevitable. The question is how will it be managed and who will be responsible?
Well, as I noted at the top we are in locked room territory here. In the early hours of the morning following the birthday party, his daughter Constance wakes her siblings to tell them there is smoke coming from their father’s bedroom. They try the door to discover it is locked, forcing the group to break open the window and open the door from the inside. When they do they discover that Patrice died of asphyxiation but there is some further mystery about how the fire started and spread when almost all of the room is made of stone.
The mystery falls into the hands of the unimaginative Inspector Rimbaud who initially has little interest in the conflicts that may have existed between the children and their father but that changes when the coroner informs him that there is clear evidence of murder. At frequent points in his investigation he meets for dinner with his Aunt Emelie who had taught the Lafarge children and they discuss the case and her insights into the children’s characters while he devours the rustic feasts she prepares for him.
Aunt Emelie and Rimbaud make for a wonderful double-act and I really enjoyed reading these passages. Though Rimbaud may be doing all of the leg work and acting in an official capacity, Emelie is able to steer his actions through suggestion and does have some real, credible insight into the participants in the mystery.
One particularly fun aspect of these sequences is that at each dinner Rimbaud will advance a theory about a different family member’s guilt based on the evidence that demonstrates how the murder was achieved, a fire set some hours later and the room was locked. Each is convincing, well thought-through and plausible in the way they address the issue of timing yet clearly they cannot all be correct.
While the seasoned locked room reader will take note of some clues to quickly set on the identity of the killer, possibly even having some idea of how the murder was done, I think the details of the method are clever and original. In this sense I felt the book did keep me engaged until the end.
Ekemar has a pleasing and engaging writing style and does an excellent job of establishing and building up his characters. The characters of each of the children are quite intriguing and he takes the trouble to build them detailed personal lives that will provide motives for murder. I enjoyed learning about each of them and their secrets. In one of my favorite subplots, we see two of the characters’ secret personal lives collide while the siblings are at their family home, unaware of this development. Though I felt the payoff to this moment was a little smaller than I had hoped, I did enjoy those scenes enormously.
While those hoping for a Carrian complication to the story may be a little disappointed, I think that the simplicity of this crime is one of the novel’s virtues and appreciated that the book does not outstay its welcome. The solution is wonderfully fair, with all of the necessary elements clearly established beforehand, and it is easy to follow.
The Patricide is a very cleverly constructed locked room mystery and though the identity of the killer may not be too challenging for fans of the subgenre, I appreciated the challenge of figuring out just how it was done.