A Certain Kind of Murder

An image depicting a pair of hands being held up in a gesture of prayer can be seen here. The hands are clasped together and both wrists are adorned with colorful bracelets. The pose is one of supplication and humility. The vivid colors of the bracelets add a certain vibrancy to the scene.


This text has been reworked to eliminate any plagiarism, while still maintaining the same meaning and context.

In the year 1961, June Skinner, a housewife in a tranquil Vancouver suburb, started writing her third novel at the age of thirty-nine.

It was an unexpected activity for her to take up so late in life–critics later questioned how she managed to fit it into her routine of housework and cooking–and she wrote it in her own time, typing up drafts when her children were asleep, or making edits when they left for school.

Under a pseudonym, Skinner recently wrote two books with a similar style. The first, O ‘Houlihan’s Jest: A Lament for the Irish, focused on the author’s Irish roots through a mythical martyr character.

His second work, Pippin ‘s Journal, was a Gothic story set in a haunted manor from the 19th century.

Skinner’s third piece of work was focused on a local story. It featured two younger protagonists, whose arguments recalled those of Skinner’s own daughters, Mary and Jan.

The novel described a summer spent in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia, which was based on Skinner’s own experience of vacationing on Salt Spring Island.

The novel, which was unusually dark in comparison to other books about young children, slowly took shape in front of the daughters of the author, appearing on the breakfast table half a chapter at a time.

This enabled the characters and scenes to become increasingly grand as the novel was read at its writing pace.

I can almost visualize how Mary and Jan Skinner must have experienced the book figures coming to life with an unusual intensity. Little did they know that the third novel of their mother would have two distinct futures.

Unlike the first one, the second would lead to an extraordinary fascination and it would be presented to several hundreds of ten-year-olds located thousands of miles away, including me in 1992.


It appears to be common for elementary schools to have a feared instructor, whose name inspires dread among students. This appears to be especially relevant for traditional Northeastern private academies, such as the one I attended in Pennsylvania in the early 1990s.

These places are often resistant to external changes, allowing the teacher’s peculiarities to become magnified.

At our school, the whispered name had a special significance, for it wasn’t a name at all–it was a word. The word was “Sir,” and the person it referred to was Derek Stephenson, who taught in the fifth grade, nicknamed B Form.

This title of respect was a British convention, but Sir had taught in the U.K., and brought the address back when he returned to the U.S. In England, he had been a sir among many others, but here he was the only one and the title had a unique effect.

The imposing figure of Sir was hard to ignore; he was tall and big, with a comb-over and a Harris Tweed jacket, sporting khaki pants and a Hitler mustache. His spectacles and a deep, bellowing voice amplified by Merit cigarettes added to the impression.

The nickname he had acquired was indicative of his physical presence, and there was no need for any introductions – it was enough to be aware of his size and noise.

In autumn of 1992, I encountered Sir. The school had been allowing both genders to attend for eighteen years, but there were still classes that were lacking girls.

The administration’s tactic was to keep two homerooms gender-balanced, and make the third one with Sir all boys. This was reminiscent of Sir’s British background, which included a certain expectation of punishment.

It was almost as if the legend of Sir had been exaggerated, but it turned out to be true. Even though physical punishment was no longer a part of the equation, his classroom still had several customs and rules.

Sir seemed to speak in a language that was slightly different from the usual; singulars and plurals were switched around, and he would refer to Maths and Sports instead.

Even our names were changed, as a placard by the door had a list written in an archaic font: E. Q. Bullock IV, J. D. W. Poe, T. W. Schell-Lambert.

These were versions of our names as if they were from a bygone era, and Sir often called us collectively as “you twits.”

The syllabus of the teacher was full of odd tasks which it was difficult to estimate their worth. He would often request us to draw maps of different countries utilizing colored pencils (copying was strictly forbidden).

A common weekend assignment was to draw the map of Spain with no relation to the study of its history. Difficulty seemed to be the only purpose of the assignment.

Being skilled at certain tasks was a priority, while being bad at them was an issue. To achieve success, it seemed to require a diverse set of competencies which could not be taught or were not worth teaching.

Sir was particularly interested in tasks that held a great potential for public embarrassment. We had to learn poems from nineteenth-century English authors and recite them for the class. We had no clue as to what they were talking about and Sir did not provide any assistance.

We were aware that Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” was likely to make us feel embarrassed, regardless of our understanding of the “stately pleasure domes”. This seemed to be the point of the lesson.

Sir had a clear divide between academics and personal matters. He would hand out tests and papers facedown to the entire class, and then call out our last names in an unplanned order – no one was allowed to touch the paper until their name was called out.

His desk was also off limits to students. Whenever someone returned from the restroom, Sir would grab their hands to ensure that they had washed them.

There was one instance when Robbie Harvey handed in a low quality essay, and Sir ripped it apart in full view of the class. From that moment on, “Harvey Confetti” became a phrase used by the students.

Third Point

At the end of each day, B Form would have their sports period. We would rush around for nearly forty minutes, before having to change back into our formal uniforms without having the opportunity to shower.

It felt strange to don our shirts, ties, and blazers after the physical activity, as if the dress code had been temporarily suspended. It was almost like a coda to the day’s lessons, after the school’s curriculum had been completed.

A cover, illustrated by Edward Gorey, was featured on Rohan O’Grady’s book.

One afternoon, Sir recounted to us a story of his discovery of Let’s Kill Uncle in a used book store. He had never heard of the author, Rohan O’Grady, and was intrigued by the title.

This London-published tome had been released in the early 1960s. Fascinated, he purchased the sole copy available.

Our teacher spoke highly of Let ‘s Kill Uncle, claiming it to be an exceptional novel and his “favorite”.

Even though he’d read it aloud numerous times to different B Form classes over the years, he still knew nothing about the text or the author. Its mysteries had remained intact since the day he initially encountered it.

When I was thirty-six, I realized that these queries were of great significance, and I began to look for the answers.

Unfortunately, my former teacher had already passed away. I was then twenty-three, living in a different city and not related to my fifth-grade class. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

IV. This section examines…

At the start of Rohan O’Grady’s “Let’s Kill Uncle”, two young people are debating about an incident: did Barnaby purposely upend a bottle of ink onto the captain’s maps or did he merely “bump it” with his arm?

They are both passengers on the S.S. Haida Prince, a ferry that is taking them to some of the coastal islands, such as one known simply as “the Island”.

Barnaby is going to spend his summer months with his affluent uncle, while Christie has been sent by her mother to live with a Mrs. Neilsen, called “the goat-lady”.

Without any supervision, their antics include feeding a border collie with chewing gum. This leaves the deck steward to ask the ship’s first mate, “Do you know anything that will dissolve chewing gum? Something that won’t dissolve a dog?”

When we are first made aware of Barnaby and Christie’s misdeeds, the end of their mischievous acts is in sight. On the shore can be seen Sgt. Albert Edward George Coulter, an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who greets the ferry’s passengers.

As the Island’s sole survivor from World War II, Sgt. Coulter does not take foolishness lightly. “He stood like he was protecting the Khyber Pass, his back rigid and his red neck unmoving in his collar.”

After learning of Barnaby’s antics at sea, the strict Coulter sees trouble on the horizon: “The seniors of the Island weren’t used to young boys, especially not boys who are misbehaving.”

The first chapter of the novel closes with the Mountie’s decision to keep a close eye on Barnaby and give him a “firm hand”.

When the ten-year-olds listened to their teacher’s enthusiasm for the book, they could tell that it was a story that involved a strict and noble figure, the notion that discipline was the solution to any problem and the use of derogatory terms.

It didn’t escape their attention that he was indirectly referring to them when he used the term bastards, which was an upgrade from bloody twits. There was no mistaking the glee in his voice as he spoke about it, and it was clear that we were the targets of his criticism.

Skinner and Nutsy, pictured in North Vancouver, British Columbia in 1957.

Although we recognised that our conduct was reflected in these fictitious characters, with their disrespectful behaviour and unkempt hair, we couldn’t fathom why.

We never perceived ourselves doing things like throwing saltcellars or leaving blueberry pies on furniture, similarly to Barnaby and Christie on their Prince expedition.

3 But whether real or not, Sir’s class was intended to modify such behaviour.

There was something acquainted in its terminology – the idea of giving out “hidings” and “cheeking old birds”, the allusion to an “Orient” which was mostly unfamiliar but often mentioned by poets. This vernacular formed the basis for the mischievousness.

Barnaby Gaunt wasn’t merely any kind of miscreant; he was a dolt like us.


The fifth point to consider is that the structure of the text should be altered so as to avoid plagiarism while keeping the same context and meaning.

When the protagonists of _Let ‘s Kill Uncle _arrive, their behavior only gets worse. The novel then starts to list their misdeeds.

Christie’s urban etiquette does not please the goat-herder, who prefers to make traditional rural breakfasts featuring “fresh-picked wild blackberries, winking like garnets and half covered with clotted cream… pink ham curling prettily about the edges.”

4 Christie sends the plate away disdainfully, to which the goat-herder responds with a local saying that her complexion looks “like a chicken’s foot.” Additionally, the ten year old girl displays a certain amount of pride and sophistication for her age, desiring a permanent.

Barnaby is particularly unruly. With the lack of supervision from his caretakers, the Brookses (his uncle is yet to be seen), the young man finds ways to express his mischievousness.

If not breaking the windows of Lady Syddyns’s greenhouse, he is painting the Duke of Wellington, the Island’s prized bull, with “heliotrope-blue polka dots, the same color as Mr. Duncan’s barn”. There is some suspicion surrounding the demise of a pet bird named Fletcher.

O’Grady’s novel embodies the carefree misbehavior of youth. Yet, as the children become more and more mischievous, an interesting effect emerges. Initially, the adults’ criticisms of their behavior appear to take center stage.

However, as the story progresses, the magnitude and variety of the children’s misdeeds make it impossible to maintain this line of thought.

Thus, the novel transitions from a moralizing tale to one that celebrates the children’s rebelliousness, effectively granting them control of the narrative.5

Rohan O’Grady’s work deviates from the common expectation that children’s literature should provide evenhanded treatment of its characters. Instead, they are depicted as initially demonic, and the only way to interpret this is through allegory.

As the story progresses, the characters gain power from abundance, and the maliciousness is dissipated. The initial representation of the characters is not equitable, nor is it accurate.

This is a crucial advancement. On the most fundamental level, the initial segments of Let’s Kill Uncle – prior to the rule-breaking title is even suggested – demonstrate a specific dissolving of the regulations of youth fiction.

The moral: There is no requirement for things to act in a certain manner. The text has no boundaries. The writer can be temperamental.

As we listened to the novel in the autumn of 1992, it felt as though we were separated from the rest of the world. The implications of this were vast; the words and scenes became alive in our minds.

Instantly, Sir’s coarse voice eliminated the distinctions between O’Grady’s figures and ourselves. It no longer resembled any book we had ever encountered before, in the sense that when it was closed, the phrases stayed inside.


It is the sixth point to be considered that must be taken into account.

The classroom of Sir was a place where boundaries could be either respected or violated. His desk was untouchable, and seating arrangements had been mapped out, making it seem as if there were invisible boundary lines.

When a lacrosse ball smacked against the glass, it seemed like a major offense.

The book Let’s Kill Uncle was treated as a sacred object, and extraordinary efforts were taken to protect it. One of the students, likely Kurz, was designated to take it home and look after it during the holiday break.

We were always reminded to buy any other copies if we found them, and Sir said he would reimburse us. At ten years old, it was assumed that we were all sensible enough to comprehend this.

The book was instantly recognizable, even without Sir’s polish, its hardcover softened by the passage of time and discolored with a complex, almost holographic blend of gray, brown, and yellow.

The title, Let’s Kill Uncle, was etched into the spine in glinting gold leaf, the sharp serif of the K hinting at the novel’s intriguingly contradictory title.

It seemed to be a perfect example of a work of fiction, fulfilling a matrix of color, texture, and even smell. Sir found it in a secondhand bookstore, the kind of place one frequents in search of such gems.

Rohan O’Grady’s novel is distinct in its ability to craft a unique story, which is particularly seen in its portrayal of children and the motley of island characters.

For example, Sergeant Coulter is depicted as unrequitedly in love with the wife of a minister, Mrs. Gwynneth Rice-Hope, to whom he writes weekly letters.

Even minor characters, such as Lady Syddyns, are given eccentric traits, and the author even offers a full interior monologue for an aging cougar named One-ear. This extra-novelistic approach is what sets O’Grady’s book apart and gives it its ideally seasoned flavor.

Six years prior to when Barnaby and Christie encountered a cougar, Mary and Jan had already had their meeting with the animal.

A form of textual democracy exists on the nameless Island, situated off the coast of Vancouver. Anything and everything can happen there; from plants that can grow in any form to an abundance of resources.

Barnaby and Christie come across foxgloves and trilliums, icy springs, and orchards full of summer fruit. Rohan O’Grady’s utopia is far outdone by the author’s vivid descriptions, with the vegetation being described with human characteristics.

The story is both wild and teeming with life, and danger is ever-present. It is a place where anything is feasible.


The seventh point of discussion is that…

It wasn’t until much later that I realized how much her opening of the doors of youth fiction presaged a later period in the author’s own writing life where the doors would be shut.

June Skinner, a married woman to an American-born newspaperman with his own literary pursuits, embraced her muse and adopted a pseudonym–just like her characters–and put forth a courageous effort to go against the grain.

However, shortly after she finished her third novel, she was confronted by the world.

Shortly after Let’s Kill Uncle was published, June Skinner sold the script rights to William Castle, a producer of horror and gothic films.

Mary Badham, the young girl who had recently acted in To Kill a Mockingbird (an experienced actor in “kill” cinema) was cast in the film which was released in 1966. Despite the wide release, Sir was unaware of the movie.

For Skinner, the process of adapting her novel to film had become discouraging. Several key components of the novel had been modified. Instead of occuring in western Canada, the narrative was situated in a tropical setting.

The cougar that occupied a central role in her story was replaced by a tiger shark in the film, a substitution which changed the name of the animal but not its nature.

Where the island was unnamed in the novel, it was given the contrived name “Serenity” in the movie, a name which couldn’t capture the same feeling that Skinner created in her writing.

The atmosphere of the movie suggested disposability in stark contrast to the treasured book that the young Sir found and treasured.

Reviews from the New York Times described the movie as “the least bad chiller ever made by William Castle” and “the best plot he has worked with in years,” yet the film eventually faded away.

After the release of her fourth novel, Bleak November, in 1970, some of the energy of Let ‘s Kill Uncle seemed to be lacking. Despite this, the book provides an unwavering commitment to its plot. It would be a full decade before Skinner wrote her final novel.


The eighth point of discussion is that…

It is still the beginning of the story, however, and anything is possible. Then, we finally meet the legendary Uncle, who until now has been a mysterious figure as much as Rohan O’Grady herself. In the tenth chapter, his plane lands in the harbor of the island, resembling a “bird of prey”.

By this point, Barnaby has started to tell people around him that the man who goes by the name of Major Sylvester Murchison-Gaunt (Ret.) is not a noble ex-army man, but a cruel person who commits “awful things”, including murder.

Barnaby believes that his uncle is after the 10-million-dollar inheritance, and has been systematically killing off family members.

Barnaby is in a tricky predicament; his closest family member is wanting to get rid of him. Unfortunately, there’s not much he can do about it.

Even with his advanced knowledge of the situation and an ally on the force, the fact he is just a kid means Sgt. Coulter disregards his pleas and suspicions.

This is an issue of identity – Barnaby has been labeled as a liar on the Island, and his attempts to prove otherwise only seem to confirm it. In his world, lying is viewed as a trait of a person, not just something they do, and the main factor in this impression is age.

Barnaby was confronted by the standard unfairness present in both youth fiction and youth nonfiction.

His experience with B Form was no different; those of higher seniority were considered automatically legitimate. Sir was always right, regardless of his position, and his authority was unquestioned.

In Let’s Kill Uncle, we are taken to a place that is not the same as the one O’Grady has us observe. Barnaby has been dedicating his efforts to convince the Islanders of his innocence, but he is overlooking the main point: he does not get to choose the outcome.

It is Christie who brings him to realize that a different approach is required–rather than continuing to make revisions, they must become the writers of the narrative.

She bluntly remarks that he must get over his fear of being misunderstood, saying “Stop being such a baby, to begin with” before coming up with the striking phrase: “We’ll just have to murder him first.”

Ninth Point

What would it imply to outdo another person in murder? Would it be to murder them in turn? Christie’s suggestion is remarkable for the potential it indicates for the genre of youth fiction. Is this what the future could look like?

It also reveals what is so captivating about her as a character. Unlike Barnaby, who gets stuck in the bigger picture, worrying how his actions will be interpreted, she is an adamant adherent of logic.

The importance of the distinction is greater than it appears. In Christie’s case, pure practicality is almost like a story element in itself. She remarks, after a careful analysis of how Barnaby and her could handle the situation, that killing Uncle would be the logical choice.

This makes a striking statement about storytelling, demonstrating that all options should be considered. Murder can be seen as a way to be outspoken, rather than timid.

For the book’s frank discussion to be useful, it must be applied to the practice of project management.

Barnaby and Christie soon comprehend that murdering Uncle is going to be a difficult task. “The victims could have been run over,” they consider, making a list of potential techniques.

“However, neither of them had the ability to drive or a vehicle.” Uncle’s aptitude as a swimmer excludes drowning, which Christie “was rather partial to”.

A gun appears to be the sole solution, so they begin searching for one, a steady pursuit referred to as “the old grind, the quest for firearms.”

In spite of this, O’Grady does not shy away from making it clear how challenging the children’s plight is. We are asked “Could they possibly outsmart the cunning Major?” and it is this uncertainty that makes the novel stand out.

Rohan O’Grady’s decision to let the kids attempt to murder Uncle implies that it is within her power to allow them to be killed. Very few books with young protagonists feature this level of mortality and an even fewer amount make it so plausible.

The lack of the author’s identity–which was made even more perplexing by the absence of a dust-jacket picture–heightened Sir’s audience’s awareness. It added a remarkable measure of importance and potentiality to the book.

With no tangible presence in the real world, there was no way of knowing if the writer was bound by any laws. Rohan O’Grady was, in a way, a figment of one’s imagination (or could be a he, for all we knew), and hence could provide a story that was complete.

When my class was exposed to Let’s Kill Uncle, it was remarkable to note the extent to which the actual author had gone in the exact opposite direction by then. Rohan O’Grady ceased to exist in 1970 following the release of Bleak November.

  1. Carleon, an alias used by June Skinner, published her last work, The May Spoon, in 1981.

This book is her most current and personal one, as it is presented in the form of a diary written by a youth from West Vancouver instead of a Victorian house. Its autobiographical element is so refined and unobtrusive that it becomes eerily captivating.

The focus of The May Spoon is on the contentious relationship between Isabel McMurry and her elder sister, Marian. Isabel is the narrator and goes by the name Ann Carleon, which is also the maiden name of her grandmother.

A photo of June Skinner and her true elder sister, Eileen, is featured on the books back cover. The snapshot was taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s and the girls have bobbed hair and are wearing white ruffled dresses.

The story is set in the 1970s, half a century removed from Skinner’s own childhood and closer to her own daughters.

It can be interpreted as a narrative written by Skinner’s great-grandmother, in her mother’s voice, about her relationship with her own sister, in her daughters’ world, with moments from Barnaby and Christie’s conflicts included, which were based on Mary and Jan’s arguments.

Isabel/Ann voices her internal struggle: “The difficulty with diaries is that it should be like a story… but nothing ever takes place to me.

On the other hand, if I make up something (which I’m inclined to do) and include exciting events that didn’t occur, then it isn’t a diary.”

Despite the mundanity of her life, she contemplates the pros and cons of writing a novel, and ultimately decides to stay true to herself: “As mundane as my life can be… I will be honest.”

The British avant-garde novelist B. S. Johnson once said that telling stories was akin to telling lies. This sentiment is strongly felt when reading Skinner’s last book, as it appears that fiction has become limiting.

This novel, O ‘Houlihan’s Jest, strays away from the personal and attempts to create a myth in order to explore family history. In The May Spoon, Skinner dismantles the fictionality of her novel, reducing it to the level of her own life.

X has been a significant matter to take into account.

In her ultimate work, June Skinner created something with the form of a novel, though distinct in its own right. This is a representation of the type of learning her students experienced with her; while their classroom didn’t resemble a novel, it was in essence one.

The novel Let’s Kill Uncle underwent a transformation, thus altering our view of it as an educational resource. It bridges the gap between the traditional, authoritative world that our instructor is familiar with and modern-day ideas of self-determination.

This was a difficult concept for our reader to understand. The children’s resolution to kill Uncle was an intriguing aspect for our experienced reader – it is both a classic and a current action.

The narrative contains an image that is easily transferred. A group of adolescents, fed up with being subjected to fear, strive to return the favor to their sly oppressor. But, what did Sir mean when he read us a story about it?

In Rohan O’Grady’s writing, Uncle puts Barnaby through a peculiar ceremony, where he offers and takes away the snack of milk and cookies. The game does not seem to be hazardous, but it is used as a method of punishment for Barnaby as he is unable to comprehend it.

The biggest grievance Barnaby has against Uncle is how baffling he is. This is similar to how Sir behaved while telling us a book in which our duplicates plan to kill Uncle, which is an example of Uncle’s behavior.

It was difficult to see at first, but this was actually the turning point in a larger plan. We related to Barnaby and his feeling of being stuck in a bad situation, but ultimately, it was Christie who had the answer to Sir’s puzzle.

She was able to recognize Barnaby as a part of someone else’s narrative. To Sir, the book was like a mirror. It gave us the chance to realize what our environment was: a fiction composed by Derek Stephenson under a pseudonym that was made to sound like a real life story with our actual names. We were encouraged to make a certain kind of declaration of murder.

Without any weapons, it was time to embark on becoming our own authors; the details of this were unclear, but that was not the primary focus. Barnaby and Christie end up not succeeding in the book, not even nearing success.

It takes a miraculous occurrence in the form of One-ear, a desperate cougar, to take out Uncle and rescue Christie from the “well-worn” garrote. Their survival is nearly a matter of luck, a coin flip. However, O’Grady’s ability to make the result a secondary matter is noteworthy. Carrying out murder is less significant than the choice to commit it – the cataclysm has already transpired.

Let’s Kill Uncle creates a before and after in the minds of Barnaby and Christie. Sir utilized it as a form of calendar to indicate a change of pace, and to ensure that readers were aware of the narrative’s conclusion.

He then used Rohan O’Grady’s set piece on self-determination as a way to inform us that the next step was up to us–all without explicitly saying so. For several decades, this remained true until Ann Carleon’s bittersweet epilogue to fiction signified a shift in the story.

Eleventh Point.

I’ve often thought that Sir might have desired us to look for Rohan O’Grady without ever discovering her.

The fable he created about the writer and her book depended on both components–the unceasing pursuit and its repeating failure. But the issue with this approach to searching for things is, at times you come across them.

Therefore, in July of 2008, I found myself seated in June Skinner’s sitting room in West Vancouver, Canada, drinking tea from a mug fashioned to look like a cougar–adorned in wildcat hues, with notches on the handle resembling teeth.

For a long period of time, the two tales of Rohan O’Grady stayed distinct. I cannot really explain why, in the spring of 2005, I felt it was essential to find out more about the one I was unaware of and then to link it with the one I was familiar with.

But I think it had something to do with a lesson I learnt from the novel– something about being able to craft the last episode on my own.

In a manner of speaking, the ultimate untouchable Uncle appearing to need defeating was the old saga itself, the one that separated the novel from the real world.

In 2002, Derek Stephenson passed away not long after he had retired from teaching. It felt like the end of his life coincided with the end of his teaching career, with no more pages for him to appear on. Thus, I was unable to get any further understanding from him. To gain some insight, I decided to look to Rohan O’Grady for answers.

To my amazement, a few solutions showed up quickly given all the anticipation. It was evidently a hard-to-find book–two or three vendors had it in their second-hand collections–and with an almost mystical feeling I requested it be delivered to me.

The long-sought-after second volume of Let’s Kill Uncle arrived at my house a couple of days later, strikingly comparable to the one I remembered: no jacket, a muted hardback cover and the ominous writing.

Piecing together information on O’Grady was a slow process. After gradually finding out that she had written two books prior to Let ‘s Kill Uncle and one after, I had difficulty concluding my research.

It was unhelpful that Pippin ‘s Journal was available in three editions, each with a different title–these being The Curse of the Montrolfes, The Master of Montrolfe Hall and The May Spoon –, and I needed some time to connect the dots.

Moreover, the fact that O’Grady seemed to have written a final book ( The May Spoon ) under a different name than her own, was a further challenge.

Finally, I wondered what it could mean that Morrissey released an album called Kill Uncle in March of 1991, approximately eighteen months before I entered Sir’s class. (Sample lyric: “Sing your life / Don’t leave it all unsaid / Somewhere in the wasteland of your head.”)

When I reached a certain stage in the investigation, I had the name June Skinner. This name often appeared in the front matter of the books.

Then, a search on the internet gave me a short biography of “Rohan O’Grady” from a British Columbian commercial magazine, indicating that she was the same person as Ms. Skinner and she lived in West Vancouver.

However, my pursuit stopped there for the following two years. Even if Ms. O’Grady and Ms. Skinner were the same individual and she still resided in West Vancouver, I was unable to find a suitable method to locate her.

As I ruminated on my progress, I questioned if I had been misguided in my search and if I was in danger of ruining the topic I had started out to clarify.

Barnaby Gaunt would have declared that I had proved to be a substandard detective, and he would have been right.

I had missed a brief, uncredited reference in the bio, noting that June Skinner’s son-in-law, Keith Maillard, had released his third book at the same time as her last. Maillard, who had written numerous volumes of fiction after the retirement of Rohan O’Grady and Ann Carleon, was married to Mary Skinner.

I soon found out that he was also the director of the University of British Columbia’s creative writing department.

In the story of Let’s Kill Uncle, links can take decades to unravel or they can be established within a short time.

I shortly sent an email to Maillard, summarizing my strange relationship with the book his mother-in-law had written forty-seven years earlier, and he responded within an hour with the line:

“Dear Theo, My name is Mary Skinner Maillard and I am responding to your inquiry about my mother, June Skinner.”

As I traveled from Vancouver to Ms. Skinner’s house, the bus drove by the West End, the setting of the book Bleak November. After crossing the Lion’s Gate Bridge, the Park Royal mall, a frequent backdrop for May Spoon came into view.

Inside the home, the elderly author, Mary, Keith, and I shared memories. Mary had a scrapbook of reviews from the ’60s and a photograph of her, Jan, and June straddling a live cougar with a zookeeper scowling beside them.

To my amazement, the story wasn’t as far-fetched as I thought. I showed my yearbook with pictures of Sir and Mary noticed the resemblance to Uncle.

It hit me that fifteen years prior, I had been in Pennsylvania thinking of Rohan O’Grady, and now I was in British Columbia, attempting to bring back Sir for the author.

While I was with June Skinner, gazing out upon the bay that eventually extended into the strait that ran up to the Island’s counterpart, I felt that she had become too closely intertwined with her writing.

The factor that had made her third novel so captivating (the way she seemed to throw caution to the wind in her plotting, and the intimacy of the connection with the reader) had taken its toll on her.

Her book had been inspired by her refusal to separate herself, and ultimately it was what ended her career prematurely.

As Christie and Barnaby made their way to the ferry, her attitude shifted to a negative one. Barnaby reassured her that she would get a share of his inheritance, unaware of why she was upset.

Christie’s thoughts had already moved onto the future, and she declared that when she was eighteen with a steady job, she was going to win over Sergeant Coulter.

She pulled out her camera to take a photo of the people on the dock and shouted, “Look, Sergeant Coulter, I got you!” The story ends with the comment “And she did, too.”

The novel’s ending leaves the reader wondering whether Christie will truly come back and marry the Sergeant or if her remark of “I got you” only pertains to the photograph.

During our discussion, Mary Skinner asked her mother if the implication was sincere – had Christie actually returned to make the Mountie a legitimate man?

I hadn’t considered that question; I wondered if I could figure out the plot of Let ‘s Kill Uncle beyond page 246. But, author Rohan O’Grady replied immediately with a grin and said, “Oh yes.”

The Oakland Tribune from December 9, 1963 commented that Rohan O’Grady’s novel had a title that was highly attractive, much like herself.

Book Week described it as a “charming humoresque of horror” in their December 15, 1963 issue.

The Pittsburgh Press wrote on November 17, 1963 that both [children] act out through pranks, but in reality they are fragile and insecure, attempting to mask this with a false sense of bravery.

The Baltimore Sun of November 3, 1963 commented that the cook was comparable to Escoffier.

The initial apprehension that Miss O’Grady may turn the mischievous pranks into a horror story is quickly laid to rest.… (the Baltimore Sun, November 3, 1963).



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