Review: Let’s Kill Uncle, Rohan O’Grady

I have made up a poem. Would you like to hear it?

Rohan O’Grady
Is really a lady.

It’s true! Her name is actually June Skinner, which in my opinion is a name much better suited to the tone and contents of Let’s Kill Uncle than the rosy-cheeked-and-jocular-sounding “Rohan O’Grady.” But nobody asked for my opinion.

Let’s Kill Uncle is about a pair of children, a boy called Barnaby and a girl called Chrissie, who have both come to live on a little island off the coast of Canada. Because all but one of the men on the island died in World War II, there are no children at all besides just these two. Barnaby, who will inherit $10 million on attaining his majority, believes that his uncle is a psychotic madman trying to kill him; and nobody but Chrissie believes him. Together they hatch a plan to kill Uncle before he can kill them.

You know what doesn’t happen in this book? Uncle doesn’t turn out to be a sweet eccentric like so many presumed-dangerous adults in fiction about anxious children. He actually wants to kill the children. If they don’t kill him first, he’s going to get them. He has the crazy eyes and he wants Barnaby’s money. That’s because June Skinner is more like Shirley Jackson than she is like Edward Eager. Let’s Kill Uncle isn’t creepy to quite the same degree as We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but it’s still sort of disturbing, albeit in a mostly-humorous way.

In completely different comparisons, June Skinner is sort of similar to Noel Streatfeild insofar as she doesn’t romanticize the characters of the children. They’re scared of the circumstances they’ve found themselves in, and they want adult approval, and at times they display flashes of integrity on certain points; but as a rule, they’re naughty the way children are, and practical the way children are. Their scheme for carrying out the murder is cold-blooded, and they spend a lot of time thinking about how not to get hanged once they’ve done it. So, um, I guess my comparison is to a very much darker and more gothic Noel Streatfeild, the point being that kids (like anyone) can be amoral monsters if nobody’s making them behave.

June Skinner! I would like to read another book by her to see how it compares. And I would like her to use her real name. Her real name is better than her pretend name. I’m sure she’s much swayed by this argument and will get right on the phone to her publisher to let them know that she would like all her books reissued under her given name.

11 thoughts on “Review: Let’s Kill Uncle, Rohan O’Grady

  1. Wasn’t this one great? I read it last year, and it was very different (in a most satisfying way) than what I’d expected. I’m also very interested in reading O’Grady/Skinner’s other books; I remember that I looked them up after reading “Let’s Kill Uncle” and thought they sounded quite promising. Modern gothic-suspense-drama-ish. But it seems to me that they were perhaps fairly hard to track down… The Shirley Jackson comparison is very apt.

    • I think they are probably hard to track down regularly. This one got reprinted in the Bloomsbury book series that the British publishers published, but I don’t know how available her other books are.

  2. I am so happy to read this review as I’ve just finished We Have Always Lived in the Castle and absolutely loved it. I think you are spot on about the creepiness in that book – it comes from the haunting realization that Merricat’s paranoia is justified, and that Cousin Charles is not the bringer of rescue to the family, but exactly the greedy conniving interloper she fears… What sort of a book is Let’s Kill Uncle? Is it YA or an adult novel? I’ve not heard of it before but am intrigued.

    • It’s not really YA or adult. I mean I feel like it came around before that was an existing distinction. Between children and adults, it’s adult fiction, I guess? But maybe if it were published now — no, I don’t know. I don’t know. It is hard to classify.

  3. On one hand I was expecting you to say it was a lot better than it could be – as in the uncle wasn’t bad – but then that title gives it away. I was obviously too young when I last read Streatfeild, because what you’ve said doesn’t ring a bell, but I’ll have to dig out my childhood books and re-read them.

  4. This sounds a little bit like A High Wind in Jamaica, which is most peculiar and has amoral children in it (because no one is making them be moral.) I would recommend it, and I’ll look for this one.

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