Allan's Reviews > Let's Kill Uncle

Let's Kill Uncle by Rohan O'Grady
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Feb 22, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: early, reviewer, book

“The children loved the little church; it was such a pleasant, peaceful spot in which to plan a murder.”[return][return]Let’s Kill Uncle is a cheery little book that will leave you warm and spongy inside.[return]Written in 1963 by West Coast Canadian author Rohan O’Grady (the pen name of June Skinner), it is an adventure-mystery that perhaps was aimed at young adults but is more than dark and outré enough for all audiences.[return][return]Set on an unnamed Gulf Coast island off of British Columbia*, it is the story of two children who, separately, are sent to the island to spend a summer.[return][return]The boy, Barnaby Gaunt, heir to the $10 million Gaunt Biscuit fortune when he reaches his ascendancy, must stay with the doddering Brooks family until his uncle arrives to claim him. Sydney Brooks and his digitalis-dependent wife appear to inhabit a feeble-minded fantasy world since the death of their only son in the recently settled War. All 30 of the island’s young men that served came back in boxes – save one – Sgt. Albert Coulter, who spent the war in a prison camp, appears to be resented by a clutch of islanders who lost their sons, and is now a Mountie and the Island’s only law enforcement.[return][return]Barnaby’s eponymous “Uncle” is after the Gaunt fortune and intends to murder Barnaby, the last obstacle in his path to riches. The book turns on the efforts of Barnaby and his friend Christie, the only other child on the island, to murder “uncle” first! [return][return]The characters are complex and wonderfully developed.[return][return]Mrs. Nielson, the goat lady; Mister Brooks, the elderly keeper of the Post Office and General Store and his aforementioned wife; poor simple Desmond, middle-aged with the mind of a 4 year old; the evil Uncle Major Murchison-Gaunt, the unredeemable villain of the tale; and One Ear, an aged and battered philosophic cougar – his moody inner monologue highlights some of the best parts of this novel.[return][return]The interior world of children – their complicated rationale and innocent perversity – is wonderfully illustrated in this forgotten jewel of a book.[return][return]The original edition, published by MacMillan in 1963 contained original drawings by Edward Gorey, and this stylish new edition from Bloomsbury Publishing includes his original cover drawing as a frontispiece. [return][return]It would not surprise me to learn that Lemony Snicket had read Let’s Kill Uncle. His dear Count Olaf shares many of the charms of Uncle Major Murchison-Gaunt, and many of the plot points seem to intersect.[return][return]The trailer for the William Castle film based on the book can be seen on YouTube.[return][return]*According to a profile published in the January 2009 issue of The Believer “Skinner herself had vacationed on one of these [islands], named Salt Spring, and this was the model she had in mind as she detailed the novel’s own unnamed island.”
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