Requiem for Robert (Mary Fitt)

  • By Mary Fitt
  • First published: UK: Michael Joseph, 1942

The best Mary Fitt I’ve read.  She uses the technique of Five Little Pigs: first-person narratives—different voices, revealing not only the character of Robert from various angles, but themselves through their attitudes to and relationships with other characters.  Fitt’s interest is in character far more than in plot.  Although there is more investigation and clueing and motive-building (in the Christiean sense) than in Three Sisters Flew Home or Death and Mary Dazill, this is almost a straight novel with mystery elements.  As a detective story, it’s almost a progression of Anthony Berkeley.  Superintendent Mallett can’t solve the case because he lacks full understanding of Robert’s character, and does more harm than good by interfering.  (ROT13) Gur “zheqre” – bevtvanyyl gubhtug gb or fhvpvqr – gheaf bhg gb or va snpg fhvpvqr (hfhnyyl n qvfzny nagv-pyvznk), ohg Svgg’f fxvyshy punenpgre qenjvat znxrf vg na varivgnoyr gentvp raqvat: n tbbq, bire-frafvgvir zna, snprq jvgu gur (sbe n Pngubyvp) vzcbffvoyr qvyrzzn bs tenagvat uvf jvsr n qvibepr be ubabhevat uvf pbaivpgvbaf naq yrggvat gjb aba-Pngubyvpf fhssre sbe uvf snvgu, frrf fhvpvqr nf gur bayl jnl bhg. Father Gregory is a very skilful portrait of a complex man, harsh yet doing what he believes is good, and, for all that I disagree with his views, sympathetic.  Fitt has the gift of understanding.  The ending is not entirely tragic—the church service at the end offers hope for God’s mercy and forgiveness for all.

  • Fitt writes extremely well (less pretentious than Three Sisters, but evocative and often lyrical)—a book to be savoured.
  • Exploration of faith as mature as P.D. James.
  • Like Mary Dazill, largely told through flashback—characters tell stories to Mallet and Fitzbrown, who listen; but more complex, because many different narrators, instead of just the vicar’s wife.  Alternates with investigation (fact-gathering) in present.
  • Was Fitt a Catholic?  Her companion, Dr. Liliane Clopet (L.M.C.C.), presumably was.

BLURB

1942 Michael Joseph

Of Mary Fitt, The Observer has written: “If she were to rewrite the dullest adventure of Sexton Blake I would read and re-read. You relax on the assured beauty of her style as on a bed of down. The reading of such exquisite writing is sheer luxury.” Such luxury is fortunately still available and unrationed and in this, her latest novel, Miss Fitt has attained to a perfection that might well be the envy of a major novelist.

Requiem for Robert is an exquisite performance; unhurried, instinct with character and wit and fine writing. The story retraces over the years and the generations of his family, the slow sequence of events that led to the death of Robert, and to the insertion in the local paper of the three separate notices of his Requiem that aroused firstly to benevolent interest and later to intense activity, Inspector Mallett and his companion of old Dr. Fitzbrown.


CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 27th June 1942): Haunting regret gives Miss Mary Fitt’s writing its distinctive quality.  With this she disconcertingly moves us to deep feeling in Requiem for Robert over an old lady’s memory of being a wallflower in the eighteen-seventies, over a tutor leaving the house where happy years have been spent, over a young English officer climbing stairs in a French house which he fears he should not have entered.  The chief pleasure of her new detective story lies in the sudden experiencing of such emotion; one can never be sure when it will happen next, for the narrative twists and turns as Robert’s relations talk to Superintendent Mallett and Dr. Fitzbrown—almost on holiday in the mountains.  How and why Robert died is not an enthralling problem.  Yet Requiem for Robert is an enthralling book.  This is more because of the author’s powers of writing than the plot.