Sir Lawrence Linwood, the Lord of Linwood Hollow and a tyrant of a father, is always pushing his adopted children to meet unreasonable demands. Three adult children, Alan, Roger, and Caroline, have escaped their father and their home, but not unscathed. When Sir Lawrence dies, his children return home, as expected, to find not only that their father was murdered but that the latest version of his will declares that the child who solves their father’s murder will inherit his estate.
In Unnatural Ends, Christopher Huang uses elements from the golden age of mystery, pitting siblings against each other for the family estate, as the foundation of his story. Alan is the oldest. He is Caucasian and has chosen to study archeology after serving in WWI. Roger, the middle child, is of East Indian background. He also served in the war and is now pursuing a career in aviation and engineering. Caroline, the youngest, is of Asian descent. She lived in Paris during the war and has been working as a journalist. As different as they are, from looks to temperaments, they all grew up in Linwood Hall and shared their father’s ill-treatment. They also each have secrets they have kept from not only their father but from each other as well. Through these characters Huang comments on familial responsibilities, sibling rivalries, and the need for children to grow into the people they truly are regardless of parental expectations.
Huang’s setting, England shortly after WWI, is wonderfully drawn. He shows a country that is breathing a sigh of relief at the end of a major conflict, grieving its losses, and, at this moment, has no idea of the larger world war on the horizon. Huang seems to celebrate all of the tropes that we associate immediately with the Great Britain of old: fog covered moors, manor houses and villages, and a strict social class that is not to be challenged. But change is in the air. Technology and science are solving long experienced problems and archeology, a relatively new field, is shining a light into the ancient past. And into that light, Huang pulls some ugliness, long hidden or overlooked, out of the shadows. He also makes repeated references to Shakespeare, which seems appropriate in a story about siblings competing for their father’s estate. He takes a Shakespearean style family drama, weaves in the mystery surrounding Sir Lawrence’s death, and then adds elements from the works of H.G. Wells or Robert Louis Stevenson cautioning the potential abuse of science and knowledge, all of which tie directly into the novel’s surprising, and in some ways horrifying, conclusion.
Unnatural Ends is a Gordian knot of a novel that moves beyond simple issues of innocence or guilt for his suspects, and into unsettling revelations about the society in which they, and we, live. It is, in many ways, an even better book than Huang’s 2018 debut, A Gentleman’s Murder, and THAT is really saying something. Christopher Huang is a writer to watch in mystery fiction.
Read an interview with the author.