The Death Of Anton Pryce is another novel where a member of the public decides to play at being detective because something seems fishy and the police don’t seem to be doing anything.
The protagonist is the nephew of a man called Anton Pryce; and another novelist. The hero of our tale begins to suspect that there is more to the death of his uncle than people are letting on. But, as he digs deeper, the novelist begins to turn up dark secrets, ones which other people would rather not have brought to light. it seems that Anton Pryce was not a nice man. But the hero has to know: he has to keep pressing to discover the truth, whatever the cost.
Extract From The Death Of Anton Pryce
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to…”
No, not a marriage. The other one. We only come here for one of two. Well, most of us, anyway.
“…mourn the passing of Anton Pryce…”
Are we? Are we really going to mourn him? These few mendicants, garnered from far and wide, stitched into black, we have become ravens pecking at the dead. No more than six of us, all in black, the most brightly dressed already sealed beneath the mahogany lid, in his expansive, expensive cream-coloured suit. I saw it before they sealed the lid. Anton, my nuncle, looked happier than any of us. He almost seemed to be laughing, as though he had become a martyr to some cosmic joke. Then the lid was screwed down tight, and I never heard the punchline.
He hardly looked dead. I don’t know what killed him; I suppose some ailment made his body fail. But there was no sign. The mortician’s art painted an almost pretty picture. The Death of Anton Pryce, by Velasquez. Certainly not Goya. Goya is far too dark and depressing. This is only a funeral, after all. And the dead man looks healthier than the priest.
“…who loved him…”
Did any of us love him? I did not even know him. No one’s expression looks lachrymose. The leafless trees, dragged up by their twigs towards the ashen sky, look more emotional than we statuettes.
I lend my gaze to the distance. I see the gravedigger, sitting on the handle of his spade, the blade edged at an angle into the turf. He is failing to be inconspicuous. But he has heard the weather report, and wants to be done before the rains come.
A sandwich is in his hand. I wonder what sort. Cheese and ploughman’s pickle, perchance? Life goes on; and life needs sustenance, even around the dead. He takes another bite, and sees me staring at him. Briefly, we exchange glances, before I look away. He has his thoughts; and I have mine. I doubt if many of them are in common.
“…the life of men is but short…”
The words become a tinnitus, an annoying whine to be ignored, platitudes repeated so many times as to be blanched of meaning and concern. How many souls has this priest laid to rest? Requiescat In Pace. How long until somebody says the same platitudes for him? Yellow face, liver problems, must stay off the communion wine. We have all got to go sometimes. And there is nothing afterwards, no matter how much the lie might be mumbled. Eventually we will have to throw that comfort blanket away.
My gaze wanders around the graveyard, nomading from granite to granite. A few flowers dying on the grass, bunches gathered in plastic which will last forever. Fading colour before the stones, petals falling before being whipped away by the wind: confetti for the dead. Ground and corpse wedded together in perfect harmony. The only things out of place here are the living. We do not belong.
There is a bunch of red roses. I have always associated lilies with death. Roses are for love, are they not? But you can still love the dead, as long as it is in but spirit. Most people have a tabu against necrophilia. In nearly all countries, I think, it is a crime. Not like the victim is ever going to complain (scary if they did).
I cannot love Anton, for I never knew him. He was an uncle once removed; and far removed from the life that I have made my own. What of these five other pilgrims, though? Did they love the corpse? Did they even know him?
“…ashes to ashes, dust to dust…”
I know their names, without really knowing them at all. Was I invited as an afterthought? Or was their contact with Anton as hollow as mine? Did anybody here really know him (although not in a Biblical sense).
There is Jean Wilkinson, nee Price. She was Anton’s sister, and the closest kin by blood. I think it must have been Jean who sent out the invitations for this mordant gathering. A black veil garnishes her hat. It hides any signs of tears. But I suspect that there are none, though I know not why I can be so sure. This is her crow time.
There is, standing next to her, somebody who was introduced to me only as Robert. I don’t know him, or his relation to the deceased. I don’t think that I’ve ever met Robert before. The chances are that after this funeral is concluded I shall see him no more. Robert is old man slim, the years having shed his bones of excess fat. He is scrawny instead of lithe. He is perhaps two decades older than Anton’s fifty something. Robert will keep ageing, at least for a little while. Anton will not.
Then there is Judith, a second cousin of mine, who I have not seen in twenty years, ever since we were children, and our families lived less than two miles away in the outskirts of Birmingham. She’s a year older than I am. The intervening two decades have been less kind to her waistline than mine. I did not recognise her until Jean reintroduced us. Then a flash of memory restored me to the few times when we would play Monopoly together.
The fourth of us is my real uncle, Eddie. I see him occasionally, as he lives close. But he is not getting any younger. Gazing at his pallid face I am reminded that Anton’s had more colour in it. I fear that I may be coming to Eddie’s funeral next. Which is a shame, as he is a nice character. But a character who has loved the uisge beatha too much, and sobriety not at all. But I suspect that it is that very fact which I find appealing. I like people who refuse to live by the rules which society has ordered for them.
A tall stranger stands near Eddie. I have never seen him before, and was not introduced to me. He is in his forties, clean-shaven, thickset. Hair short. I smell cop. I have an instinct for that sort of thing. I don’t know why he would be there. Perhaps he is an old acquaintance of Anton. The way that he is staring into the hole in the ground I do not think that the two men could be on a more amicable footing than acquaintances.
The last of the six is, of course, myself. I’m always last.
The Death Of Anton Pryce is available as an e-book on the Amazon Kindle store.