Anthony Rolls (1886 – 1971)

VulliamyColwyn Edward Vulliamy (1886-1971), better known as just C. E. Vulliamy , was a Welsh biographer and historian. He was educated privately and studied art under Stanhope Forbes. He entered the Army in WW1 and served in France, Macedonia and Turkey. After the war he wrote mainly biographies and humour, but also produced several inverted mystery novels. He married Eileen Hynes in 1916 and had two children. She died in 1943. His best-known book is The Vicar’s Experiments (1932), written under the pseudonym Anthony Rolls. (Source: Goodreads)

According to “His novels gently satirize British society and at times the conventions of detective fiction. Best known for his novels and biographies of the era of Samuel Johnson, he also managed a military career during World War I, was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a member of the Royal Anthropological Society, and was interested in field archaeology.Also uses the pen name “Anthony Holls [Rolls].” C. E. Vulliamy was married to Eileen Muriel Hynes (1886-1943), with whom he had two children, John Sebastian (1919-2007) and Patricia (1917-1987). One of his grandsons is Edward Sebastian Vulliamy (b. 1954), a journalist known for his coverage of the Balkan War. (Source: James

Besides The Vicar’s Experiments aka Clerical Error (1932) he also wrote, as Anthony Rolls, three additional mystery novels: Lobelia Grove (1932); Family Matters (1933); and Scarweather (1934). And between 1952 and 1963 he wrote under his real name, C. E. Vulliamy, six inferior mysteries: Don among the Dead Men (1952); The Body in the Boudoir (1956); Cakes for Your Birthday (1959); Justice for Judy (1960); Tea at the Abbey (1961); and Floral Tribute (1963).

Further reading: (at The Passing Tramp)

My copy of Julian Symons’ Bloody Murder (Penguin Books, 1974) reads:

[Francis] Iles [aka Anthony Barkely] had several followers, who faithfully copied his avoidance of the classical puzzle and tried hard to catch his particular blend of cynicism and realism, but for the most part succeeded only in being casual about murder. Among the most interesting of them were Richard Hull, the pseudonym of Richard Henry Sampson (1896 – 1973), and Anthony Rolls, the name under which the historian and bell-lettrist Colwyn Edward Vulliamy (1886-1971) wrote crime stories.’

‘Roll’s The Vicar’s Experiments (1932) is about a clergyman who suddenly begins to suffer from homicidal delusions, believing that he has ‘been chosen by the Inscrutable Purpose to be the destroyer of Colonel Cargo’. A good deal of what follows is very amusing, but the story falters sadly once suspicion of the clergyman has been aroused,.’

‘Roll’s later books, published twenty years and more after The Vicar’s Experiments, did not repeat its success, and Hull had declined into a comparatively conventional writer by 1950, when his last book appeared.’ (page 139)

And Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Publishing, 2017) states the following:

One of the first crime novelists to follow in the footsteps of Francis Iles was another talented writer who disguised his identity with a pseudonym. C.E. Vulliamy adopted the name Anthony Rolls for his first novel, The Vicar’s Experiments (1932), ….. Lobelia Grove, …, appeared the same year.

Family Matters soon followed, earning a rapturous review from Dorothy L. Sayers in The Sunday Times: ….

At the time the book was written, the effects of financial crisis, with the Wall Street Crash, followed by the economic slump, were being felt far and wide. The conventional wisdom is that Golden Age fiction never addressed the economic realities of the Thirties, but that assessment is overly simplistic. Detective novelists of the period usually avoided dwelling on the hardships suffered by million of people in Britain and elsewhere, because their main objective was to offer their readers escapism, but inevitably their storylines and characters were influenced by what was happening in the world at large.

Martin Edwards at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ has reviewed the four Roll’s mysteries:


(Facsimile Dust Jacket. Geoffrey Bles Ltd. (UK) 1933)

Robert Arthur Kewdingham is an eccentric failure of a man. In middle age he retreats into a private world, hunting for Roman artefacts and devoting himself to bizarre mystical beliefs. Robert’s wife, Bertha, feels that there are few things more dreadful than a husband who will persist in making a fool of himself in public. Their marriage consists of horrible quarrels, futile arguments, incessant bickering. Scarcely any friends will visit the Kewdinghams in their peaceful hometown Shufflecester.

Everything is wrong – and with the entrance of John Harrigall, a bohemian bachelor from London who catches Bertha’s eye, they take a turn for the worse. Soon deep passions and resentments shatter the calm façade of the Kewdinghams’ lives.

This richly characterised and elegantly written crime novel from 1933 is a true forgotten classic. (Source: British Library Publishing, 2017 and Poisoned Pen Press, 2017 publicity page)

Family Matters has been reviewed, among others, by JF Norris at Pretty Sinister Books. by Leah at FictionFan’s Book Reviews, by Kate Jackson at Cross-Examining Crime, and by Joules Barham at Northern Reader.


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