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.