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Review: The Confession of Hilary Durwood by Euron Griffith

01 Jul 2023 5 minute read
The Confession of Hilary Durwood is published by Seren

Jon Gower

This restlessly inventive novel has to be the only one in all the known multiverses to feature both a giant centipede clinging like a limpet to someone’s private parts and a big cat sporting a wooden leg. It’s like a Boys Own Annual on acid.

The Confession of Hilary Durwood is the fourth novel by the Cardiff based novelist and takes him into new territory.

After previous books which variously satirized Welsh television-making, told the story of an unlikely hitman or recounted a north Walian family drama, set in the 1960s, he now offers us this madcap and Monty Pythonesque affair.

It’s an entertaining mix of ripping yarn and pastiche Victorian global adventure, set at a time of gentlemen’s clubs and smoking briar pipes, when the sun hadn’t yet begun to set on the British Empire.

Unspeakable evil

Along the way we encounter an aggressive, rat-eating porcupine named Maximillian the Second, take a dizzying aerial ride in a person-carrying kite called The Eagle and encounter the fabled Tower of Ectha.

This was once an extraordinary edifice that fully rivalled the legendary Tower of Babel which has now crumbled from a thousand foot tall to a thirty foot pile.

Yet it remains a landmark on an island where unspeakable evil resides alongside some wild-eyed tribespeople and a myriad living things:

The forest enveloped me and was alive with all manner of alien sounds. Invisible macaws squawked raucously from the heights but my efforts to detect them were entirely in vain for the verdant cupola above me was as high as Filippo Brunelleschi’s celebrated dome at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and splintered with blinding sunlight. Scuttling beetles and cockroaches made their way across the decaying leaves around my feet like devout monks apparently unconcerned by the threat posed by the brown spiders which were coiled like springs in their ghostly webs.


The book is riddled with mysteries like a round of old cheese. One of the most intrepid, and consequently famous explorers of his day Sir Duncan Roseberry has gone missing and the search for him and all the febrile attendant speculation surrounding it makes him sound like an antecedent of Lord Lucan.

Those questing for him include Hilary Durwood, the eponymous hero of the story, who catches up with him at a time when Roseberry is well and truly trapped.

The good lord (who turns out to be anything but as the narrative canters along) is propping up the remains of Ectha’s tower and doomed to do for the rest of his mortals.

This turns out to be a central pillar of the story but I hear the spoiler alert sounding so won’t tell spill the beans…Suffice it to say that on his quest Durwood does, in his own words, do ‘some unspeakable things…’ murder being one of them, and thus the need for the confessional in the book’s title.


It’s clear from all this that Griffith is having an inordinate amount of fun populating his skewed world with strange characters, improbable events and far-flung and indeed far-fetched locations.

You can see this just from the litany of names in play: – Tobias Gently; a lion called Mr Delphus of Clare, who enjoys nothing more than a bit of fresh mutton; Eustace Skate and Harry Brunch.

One is reminded of the work of Italo Calvino and Arthur Machen in one and the same breath, both being inventive authors when it came to the business of creating plausible new worlds, even if these turn on bent spindles and where many things were a little askew.

But just as you think The Confession…is settling into a baroque stream of fantastical incidents the tone changes and the locus of the novel moves to the dark and fog-bound streets of London.

It’s a city bound in fear as people are being murdered by “The Slasher,” a violent killer who stalks the shadows. Some maintain is Satan himself, returned ‘Straight from the bowels of Hell to take revenge and who can blame ‘im?’

The newspapers of the day such as The Piccadilly Trumpet and The Gazette like nothing more than lurid accounts of this mysterious killer’s terrible deeds.

Indeed some will stop at nothing to ensure they get the blood-bespattered scoops they need in order to drive up the circulation. Sound familiar?

The Confession of Hilary Durwood is an unashamedly playful novel which nevertheless looks teasingly a such matters as lies and truth, the barbarity of civilization and the mendacity of the media.

It’s a book you can read in a single sitting, with all the pleasure of taking a spoon to a knickerbocker glory, that delicious OTT confection which isn’t an inadequate analogy for the novel itself.

The Confession of Hilary Durwood by Euron Griffith is published by Seren and is available from all good bookshops.

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