After more than two decades abroad, Merlyn Docherty has returned to the bosom of his family, the Cantelos, to attend the funeral of his beloved Aunt Clarissa. However, the Cantelos are less than thrilled to see Merlyn. Some of them are even accusing him of being an impostor who wants to get his hands on Clarissa's estate. Merlyn soon suspects that the Cantelo family is hiding something from him, and he intends to find out what it is--unless, of course, someone kills him first.
Robert Barnard's "The Graveyard Position" is a talky and occasionally amusing psychological mystery about a dysfunctional and mean-spirited family. Grandfather Cantelo, the patriarch, was a vicious and self-centered man who brought up his large brood to compete with one another. As a result, the Cantelo family is comprised of bitter and suspicious misfits rather than loving and cooperative relatives. When Merlyn gets to know the Cantelos, he finds them to be a repellant bunch. However, he needs to stick around long enough to prove that he is indeed Merlyn and to claim his rightful inheritance.
Most of this book consists of long-winded conversations between Merlyn and his family, the police, and people who knew the Cantelos over the years. In addition, Merlyn reminisces about his troubled childhood, and he does his own research into the Cantelo family history. Ultimately, he unearths an explosive secret that his family has been taking great pains to hide for many years. All of this adds up to an intermittently engrossing, but rather tame, novel, in which the author tries to be funny and serious at the same time. Barnard's story does provide valuable insight into the stresses that can tear families apart, and there are some genuinely funny moments here and there. However, the "The Graveyard Position" lacks the suspense and the satirical bite that has made Barnard so effective in the past.