The Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Browne Murder Mysteries by David Roberts


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David Roberts writes...

18th August 2009

Parting is such Sweet Sorrow

October 29th is a milestone marking the end of an adventure. For ten years, beginning with Sweet Poison, my life has been inextricably involved with the lives and careers of Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Browne. With Sweet Sorrow that partnership ends.

It is August 1939 and the war so long rumoured and dreaded is finally a reality. No one doubts now that war with Germany will break out in the next few weeks and there is a strong possibility that Britain will also be at war with the Soviet Union. The United States of America stands aloof, understandably reluctant to be drawn into another European war and resolute in it refusal to fight to preserve the British Empire. To cap it all, Britain’s prime minister is a ridiculous old man with an umbrella who has been cheated and cozened by an unscrupulous dictator. Instead of preparing for war he had striven for peace at whatever cost and prepared to accept any humiliation without protest. Despite all this Britain is less depressed, less gloomy than one might expect.

There is a sense of release now that all the squalid squirming and cowardly abandonment of allies is finally over. Backs to the wall, yes, but by no means was Britain on its knees. All it wanted was a leader, a voice, and that would be forthcoming in less that a year when Winston Churchill was given the job he was born and trained for. He would voice defiance even if the British lion was toothless.

Lord Edward waits patiently and Verity impatiently to be assigned their war work. While they wait they buy a house in Sussex close to their friends the Hassels – close also to Virginia and Leonard Woolf. The Woolves, as they are affectionately known in the neighbourhood, have gathered quite an artistic community around them – poets, painters and writers. One of these, whom I have called Byron Gates, is to some small extent based on the poet Cecil Day Lewis whom I knew slightly when I worked at Chatto and Windus of which he was a director. It is, I freely admit, a character assassination but I rather hope, as a crime writer himself he would not mind, or at least not very much. Sadly, his widow Jill Balcon, died recently so it is all water under the bridge.

Where Auden and Isherwood are remembered I’m afraid history has relegated CDL as we called him, to the shadows. His poetry is unmemorable, his vanity and womanising is on record but of course he did not die for his failings as I have Byron Gates die.

There is a painter based on ... well, you guess, and the Woolves who, I have to tell you, are never accused of murder but ...

Many people despise the Bloomsbury Set as shallow, sneering ‘luvvies’ who were second-rate artists and whose morals don’t admit of close inspection. I disagree. I have the utmost admiration for Virginia and Leonard, for Roger Fry – the first English critic to admire the French Impressionists – and for E M Forster and Lytton Strachey – whose formidable sister appears in my book as herself – and for Strachey’s lover Dora Carrington. I even like the paintings of Duncan Grant and Henry Lamb. I like the ‘Bloomsberries’ and admire their courage in putting friendship first, art second and money nowhere. (Though, of course, they took it for granted there would be servants to do the domestic work!) In the Great War many of them had been pacifists and even in 1939 Virginia Woolf was still opposed to war – she had never recovered from the death of her nephew Julian Bell in the Spanish Civil War - and in the end she could not live life while it raged all about her. Leonard was, of course a Jew and had no illusions as to what his fate would be if the Nazis won the war. He carried cyanide with him at all times and would have used it if the need had arisen.

Once again I raise the question of why one should worry about the death of one man when all over Europe people are being killed for their race in their thousands even before war broke out. But I hope that in the end this is not a depressing book. There are deaths, there are partings but there is humour and friendship, a remembrance of an England that for all its faults had an innocence, a moral courage and a determination to oppose evil at whatever cost which we may still envy.

I shall be at Heffers bookshop in Cambridge on publication day and if any of you are in the area I would be delighted to see you there.

In London, though probably not on the same day! – I shall be signing books at Hatchards in Piccadilly and elsewhere.

I am very grateful for the many kind words – letters and emails - I have received about the series and I am happy to have given pleasure and hope to remain in touch.

- David Roberts

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