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Henry Wilt is in his early 40s and is a man facing a mid-life crisis. A graduate of Cambridge University, his later life was not one of stellar gilded brilliance propelling him to the top in the Civil Service, politics, academia, The BBC, or any of the careers usually red-carpeted or fast-tracked for Oxbridge graduates. No, Henry has sunk into suburban mediocrity as a Liberal Studies tutor at the Ipford Tech College. He isn't even Head of Liberal Studies, as his dissatisfied wife Eva regularly complains to him. In fact, he is, to quote Wikipedia, "a demoralized and professionally under-rated assistant lecturer who teaches literature to uninterested construction apprentices at a community college in the east of England."
His wife, Eva, is a dissatisfied woman who mixes socially with the wives of professional academics who did so much better than Henry and who have better clothes, better cars, better kitchens and better houses. She relates this dissatisfaction to Henry at every opportunity. And better children? Eva is the sort of larger-than-life woman who does everything to excess. She added to Henry's woes by becoming the mother of quads, all girls, all taking after Mother, who are being brought up in an atmosphere of laissez-faire parenting and regurgitated feminist slogans that even their mother only half-understands.
Physically, Henry and Eva Wilt fit the Tiny Guy, Huge Girl trope: in line with Sharpe's female leads, Eva is an Earth Mother, a larger-than-life woman who does everything to excess, including motherhood - she is mother to quad girls, also to Henry's discomfort. And they all take after Mum...
Despairing of his lot, Henry starts to fantasize about killing his wife and starting all over again... and going on from here will require a lot of plot spoilers.
Tropes featured include:
- Earth Mother: Eva is a prime example of the cranky underappreciated kind of Earth Mother.
- Henpecked Husband: Henry.
- Mistaken for Evidence: After Henry is accused of murdering Eva, the police search his house and find a lot of what looks like damning evidence, including a cleaver he had used to open a can of red lead.
- Tiny Guy, Huge Girl