Title: Excellent Intension
Author: Richard Hull
Great Barwick’s least popular man is murdered on a train. Twelve jurors sit in court. Four suspects are identified – but which of them is on trial?
This novel has all the makings of a classic murder mystery, but with a twist: as Attorney-General Anstruther Blayton leads the court through prosecution and defence, Inspector Fenby carries out his investigation. All this occurs while the identity of the figure in the dock is kept tantalisingly out of reach.
“If you ask my quite unofficial opinion, plenty of people richly deserve to be murdered nowadays and far too few of them actually get bumped off.”
The book is advertised as a crime novel that’s not (quite) like the other crime novels and at first, it is very unlike others. The book starts with the trial and we learn a few things about the judge, the prosecutor and the lawyer. But nothing about the person who’s on trial. They’re only referred to as ‘the accused’ or ‘the defendant’. Then the trial opens, and the first witness gets called: the man who saw the victim taking some snuff and then collapsing. First, he is questioned by a prosecutor who likes long words and run-on sentences, then by the defence who desperately tries to confuse the witness enough to make him doubt his memory – because if the things didn’t happen the way he described it would be advantageous for the defendant.
But then the novel takes a turn. The rest of the investigation isn’t told through the trial. The story jumps back, and we see the investigation unfold in a quite traditional manner: The inspector questions the suspects and reconstructs they day of the murder to figure out when the poison could have been put in the snuff-box. This investigation takes up most of the book and doesn’t read much different than any other ‘typical’ crime novel. The only difference is that there’s no big reveal of the culprit in the library. Instead, it jumps back to the trial and that’s where we learn who was the only person who could have poisoned the snuff and how the inspector figured it out.
It’s not that I’m complaining about that. With the prosecutor and his love for wordiness (I got traumatic flashbacks to reading The Moonstone from just the few pages) the whole story would have been near-unreadable if it was all told via the trial. But the blurb (and Martin Edward’s introduction) advertised quite aggressively how different the story is told in this book when, in reality, it is told quite normally and mostly just plays around with the chronology.
Will I read more by the author? Definitely. The story itself has a fair share of wit and humour. I wouldn’t go so far as saying that it’s a parody, but it doesn’t take itself completely seriously. There’s the victim who was horrible and hated everyone so much that he even wanted his money to go to a place where it did ‘the least amount of good’ and therefore decides to leave it to the state. The remaining characters aren’t quite as exaggerated but there’s still a bumbling vicar, a hyper-competent assistant, an ominous butler and a stupid gardener.
ARC provided by NetGalley