Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Family Secrets – Derek Malcolm


This non-fiction book tells the tale of a supremely unhappy family, one that is marred by a secret of the highest order, a murder.

Film critic Derek Malcolm tells the story of the murder committed by his father from the distance of many years. This rather strange tale tells the story of Derek’s early years, his relationship with his father who loves his country sports and his mother who craves attention. There are moments of pathos surrounding his school years where the couple, who at times lived apart, visited him. Awkward moments where any signs of a less than affluent nature were kept hidden as much as possible. There is no doubt that this was a different time, and the rules were very different indeed.

Despite the tone of the book, very much stiff-upper-lip, the reader can only wonder how Derek coped with the warring couple who were his parents. There seemed to be no bond between them and yet the two stayed together in disharmony throughout his childhood albeit in different locations for a while. As an only child I can only imagine that school was his salvation and his success in later life is testament that even a strict boarding school aged a tender four is possibly better than living in a domestic war zone. Anyway mummy sent him fond messages on the back of postcards… Of course she was busy entertaining her male friends and lapping up the attention.

“Isn’t this a nice picture? Much love, Mummy”

A possible source of the disharmony at home is an event in 1917 when Douglas Malcolm, on leave from Western front determined to save his wife, Dorothy’s honour by killing a man who she was having an affair with. This was seemingly a planned event, Dorothy had asked Douglas for a divorce, he declined. The scene in the Paddington boarding house where the confrontation took place was quite probably not a pretty one.

More than thirty years later Derek stumbles across the details, something his sixteen year old self didn’t feel the need to share with his father. he Judges and the Damned was the book and while browsing through the Contents pages Derek reads, ‘Mr Justice McCardie tries Lieutenant Malcolm – page 33.’ But there is no page 33. The whole chapter has been ripped out.

The most interesting part of the book in my opinion was the murder trial itself. I can’t imagine a court would take the same view nowadays or even that any man claiming to murder another to save his wife’s honour would achieve anything but incredulity. But that was the defence. That’s not to say that the standing of the two men involved didn’t also play its part in the snobbishness of the courtroom.

This was an interesting story, told almost completely without emotion, as if Derek Malcolm was telling the tale to men very much of his background and his standing. The upper lip is often so stiff I felt the words could barely make their way out as we are told of bullying and beatings at Eton as if these are real badges of honour. Of course to a man of his time, they probably were but I can’t deny there was a gap between the raconteur and his audience.

First Published UK: 2003
Publisher: Hutchinson
No of Pages: 224
Genre: Non Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

11 thoughts on “Family Secrets – Derek Malcolm

  1. This does sound really interesting, Cleo. What an unusual portrait of a dysfunctional family, and you can’t help but feel for the child. After that sort of a boyhood, it’s nor surprising that the upper lip is that stiff, so to speak.


  2. What a thing to discover! Pity the storytelling was so stiff upper lippish – it has all the ingredients to be a great true crime story. Ha – yes, with some families, boarding school would definitely be a good option…


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