In March 1973 Cartland senior and junior had embarked on what looked to be, had fate not intervened, an epic continental odyssey. From Southampton, the pair planned driving to Denia in Spain to collect a caravan Cartland senior had purchased some years earlier and which he intended to locate in land he owned in France. Brighton based Mr Cartland it transpires was quite the businessman: language school owner, property developer and real estate speculator.
Having collected the (pink and yellow!) caravan and re-berthed it, father and son had planned to travel on to Italy and Switzerland to promote the family's language school business. However, it was not to be.
Travelling between Salon de Provence and Aix en Provence, the pair decided to pull into a layby to spend the night. Oddly, this decision was made despite the presence of an official campsite further down the road. According to Cartland junior neither man had been aware that a campsite was close at hand. And this is just one of many nagging doubts about the case that will unwittingly unfold in Jeremy Cartland's account of that fateful night.
It should be noted that father and son spoke French fluently; not only this but Cartland senior owned land in France. Why on earth they (Jeremy?) would choose to hitch up in a deserted spot in preference to a campsite might, as we shall see, have been a deliberate premeditated move.
During the night Jeremy claims he heard voices outside the caravan. Upon going out to investigate (would you?) he is coshed over the head. Lights out. When he comes round his father is missing and the caravan has been set alight. Later, the police discover the body of his father. Basil John Cartland has been savagely murdered. But for what reason? Despite his best efforts - and he really does try - son Jeremy never quite manages to provide any sort of explanation.
Most disturbing of all is this question: why would the mysterious assailants attack his father so viciously (crushed skull and cut throat) ensuring the 60-year old was quite dead, while just bashing Jeremy over the head? Without any sort of motive, it's difficult to understand why these midnight prowlers had killed one man with such fury (the elder) while leaving the younger man to live . . .
While relating these events - five years after that grisly night - one can't help being struck by the narrator's matter-of-fact tone. If there was any fondness between father and son, there is absolutely no trace of it in this account. Cartland junior is cool, detached and just a little too satisfied with his version of events.
Certainly his disdain for the French investigators shines through. This might be because police were convinced this was a case of fratricide. And I have to say I'm with them 100%. Very conveniently, Cartland junior can't remember a single detail about his attackers: He saw nothing, rien. It all happened so quickly etc. Why did the attackers torch the caravan? Good question. There are many more.
What follows is Cartland's commentary which, unsurprisingly, becomes a platform for him to criticise the police and the press - anybody in fact that has him down as guilty. It's fascinating stuff. If you, like me, believe Cartland junior planned the murder of his father, this is an insight into the mind of a psychopath.
I believe this is what happened: Cartland senior left the caravan to relieve himself sometime around midnight. His son, aware that his father would need to do this, lay awake, waiting for his chance. Picking up the axe he had packed for this purpose, he followed his father out into the dank, night air and struck with ferocious violence. Reading the French autopsy report is not for the feint-hearted.
Why did he do it? There are clues throughout the book. Resentment perhaps? It transpires that the canny Cartland senior had bequeathed the entire content of his estate to his housekeeper with whom he lived in Brighton. Moreover that father and son had a fractious relationship is hinted at throughout the book. There appears to be little love lost between the pair.
Once a tabloid sensation, this grisly and cowardly murder of the multi-lingual businessman, a former member of British intelligence and a raconteur par excellence, is now virtually forgotten. All the actors are now gone. Jeremy Cartland himself died recently. But whereas his father had suffered unimaginable violence, the son, by all accounts, died peacefully.
If there is a heaven, one can only imagine how Cartland senior might have greeted Cartland junior. One thing in this perplexing mystery is however assured: this book will send shivers down your spine. Be prepared.