Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull – Another British Library Crime Classic with a twist

Image result for excellent intentions Hull

Great claims can be made for this book because it starts with a very original idea. The scene is set in the trial for murder, but it soon becomes obvious that while we begin to pick up the facts of the case, we are not to find out who the accused actually is until substantially later in the book. The British Library Crime Classics series published Hull’s very unusual “Murder of My Aunt” last month; this month’s offering is equally puzzling. Is it a murder mystery, or a legal trial novel? What is the role of the police? Will it come down to the skill of the lawyers or will the truth out? This novel starts where most murder mysteries end, when the trial for the life of the accused begins. This book was originally published in 1938, in the Golden Age of Detection, when capital punishment meant a guilty verdict was literally a death sentence. So this book deals with one death, but could possibly lead to another.

This book begins with an ambitious lawyer, Anstruther Blayton, opening the prosecution of the mysterious accused. In comparison, the judge, Sir Trefusis Smith, is perhaps thinking of retirement, but his reputation for directing a jury is formidable. One of the impressive things about Hull’s writing is that you can see and hear his characters from their words and dialogue. These are not stock characters, but manage to convey what they are thinking apparently so effortlessly. When we get to the beginning of the actual description of the crime, there is humour and depth in each of the characters, especially Hardy who describes his interest in the character of Cargate. The latter is soon found to be a thoroughly unlikable man, with no obvious patience or understanding. It emerges throughout the book that he has no redeeming characteristics, and that he bullies and threatens everyone he comes across. He is no respecter of persons; the loyal and influential are all alike to him as targets for his nastiness and suspicion. Hull almost has fun creating a character who no one could like, thereby multiplying the number of possible suspects who have found themselves in the dock. He also enjoys himself with the Hardy family, who are so numerous that their occupation becomes their name. I think that the writer is playing with the reader here, adding to the confusion. The doctor tries so hard to do the right thing, but is in uncharted territory. Railway enthusiasts may enjoy the debate on the etiquette of having a body on board.  There are many clues, but this is essentially a straightforward murder. The real question is the identity of the accused, and what will happen.

Technically this is an accomplished book with a lot of interest. I enjoyed reading about the characters, even if Cargate was over the line in terms of awfulness at some points. It is both a classic murder mystery and a book with a decided twist, which means that the reader must concentrate! I was very happy to receive a review copy of this latest book in the series of books, most of which I have enjoyed. This lesser known author of the Golden Age of Detection certainly wrote some good books with unusual twists, and I would hope that some more become easily available in the near future.

It is always a treat to read a new British Crime Classic, and this one is a super edition. I am reading some of the new Science Fiction classic stories that have recently come out, and am looking forward to posting a review in the near future.

The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull – An Unusual British Library Crime Classic

Image result for murder of my aunt Hull

For something completely different, this is the classic crime novel! Originally published in 1934, this novel from the Golden Age of Crime writing is a completely different read from most of the excellent books in the British Library Crime Classics series. I was fortunate to receive a review copy and instantly devoured this unusual book. Told in the first person, which I believe is quite rare in this sort of novel, it shows just how difficult it is to commit not only the perfect murder but one which may pass a cursory examination. It is an enjoyable and deceptively funny book, depicting a clash of lifestyles and attempted low cunning by a hopelessly inept protagonist, with a twist towards the end.

Edward Powell is a man in the wrong place in quite the wrong time, at least in his eyes. He has grown up in rural Wales under the stern eye of his Aunt Mildred, and like many literary aunts she is unable, it would seem, to see his side in any argument. There are many arguments. Edward sees himself as a fashionable aesthete, fond of French novels, well cut clothes, unusual and splendid food, and light sparkling conversation. His aunt is a sturdily practical woman, with her endeavours to maintain relationships in the local community, garden and restrict her nephew’s worst excesses. After the suspicious and unmentioned deaths of his parents, Edward has been consigned to her care and financial management. He finds nothing attractive or even satisfactory about his enforced lifestyle among the peasants (as he sees them) and boring setting of the family home, Brynmawr. After a protracted tussle over picking up a parcel of books, Edward decides that the death of his aunt is the only answer to his plight, and starts to plan and make notes accordingly. His thoughts of ‘accidental’ car crashes and detailed plans are thus presented against his continual resentment of his aunt and the local inhabitants. Each movement has an impact on his clothes, his appetite, his relationship with his aunt as she cuts down on his desires to live an elegant life, with her enigmatic threats to “take action”.

This is a crime novel without much mystery, thanks to Edward’s complete inability to successfully organise any action, and his aunt’s stubborn conviction that he is in the wrong. In his excellent introduction to the novel, Martin Edwards places the story in its context of the others books being written at the time. He points out its significance in that there is no detective, no careful plot, no collection of clues. He sees it as “a slyly entertaining read”, and that is the reason that I enjoyed it so much. It is entertaining and satirical of the affectations of a young man with few if any redeeming qualities. He refers to his car as “La Joyeuse”, his fashionable Pekinese as  “So-so”, his collection of novels as his most precious possessions. He has few practical abilities and yet aims to achieve the murder of his aunt without any personal danger of discovery or prosecution. He is the opposite from most culprits who feature in the crime novels of the time in his sheer ineptitude. This is a very funny, very entertaining book which does not complicate the issues involved but just presents an enjoyable story which is recommended for the experienced classic crime reader as well as the intrigued newcomer to the genre.

After my delayed review of “Essex Serpent” this is a swift review! I genuinely read it really quickly, as I found the story so engaging. Roll on the next Richard Hull!