Richard Hull: The Murder of My Aunt

39884612Title: The Murder of My Aunt
Author: Richard Hull

Edward Powell lives with his Aunt Mildred in the Welsh town of Llwll. 
His aunt thinks Llwll an idyllic place to live, but Edward loathes the countryside – and thinks the company even worse. In fact, Edward has decided to murder his aunt. 

Rating: E

There are two types of crime-novels that are written from the POV of the murderer: In one he is an evil genius, a psychopath who comes up with ingenious (and often gory) ways to kill. The question is obviously not “Who did it?” but “How will he get caught?”, where’s the mistake that will trip him up?  I never cared about those (I want to be able to like the person in whose head I’m stuck while reading).

In the second, the killer is extremely likeable and the victim(s) aren’t. Often rapists, domestic abusers and other killers who were never caught. I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of those but there’s always a danger of exaggerating the evilness of the victims too much. They turn into moustache-twirling villains who kick puppies in their spare time and end up feeling not really human anymore (because that would mean the reader had to struggle with pesky morals).

The Murder Of My Aunt in a way is a bit of both. The aunt is horrible, but I also hated Edward – the narrator who plans the murder – after about two pages. He complains that he’s stuck in a small village (due to the in mystery-novels so popular inconvenient terms of a will that make him dependant on his aunt). It’s horrible and boring, it doesn’t even have a cinema (the horror) and worst of all: it’s in Wales and has a silly Welsh name. Because Welsh is a silly language, you see. No vowels and ridiculously many Ls. Isn’t that stupid? English is, of course, the superior language. It makes sense and the spelling is totally reasona…

Gif from Tatort: Wilhelmine Klemm laughing. Caption: HAHAHAHA

Yes, I get it. This was written in 1934. Back then such views were probably considered genuinely amusing…or at least only slightly obnoxious instead of a sign of an absolute jerk. But since it’s not the thirties anymore even though current politics…no let’s not go there, I do feel strongly about people mocking languages, and we are treated to Edward’s diatribe about Welsh at the very beginning of the book, I hated him immediately.

But at the same time, his aunt is also horrible. Not in the way patriarchs and matriarchs in mystery novels usually are: They are convinced that they are always right and that their children have to obey them. They might be aware that the child would be miserable but to them, it’s just an insignificant side-effect. The important thing is that everybody obeys them.

Edward’s aunt just wants to make him miserable. For example, she knows that Edward hates walking and so she decides to force him to walk to fetch a package from the post office. For that, she has to tell the postman that he should keep the package instead of delivering it (giving as reason that the label was torn), throw away the petrol of her own car so that Edward can’t use it, tell the owner of the local garage that he should refuse if Edward calls him and ask if he can deliver petrol and hide the phone-book so that he won’t find a different garage. That’s a lot of work for an idiotic prank. Because that’s all it is. She didn’t need him out of the house for any reason, she only wants him to walk because she knows he hates it.

At that point, I was willing to temporarily forget his comments on the Welsh and cheered for his plan to work because that would mean one less horrible character. And after all, his mistakes when setting up his murderous trap where so glaringly obvious that I was sure he would be arrested soon after the murder and my suffering would also soon be over. But alas, things don’t go as expected – for Edward and the poor, suffering reader – and in a different book I might have enjoyed the way things turned but here I just had to read more horrible people being horrible to each other and hated every page of it.

ARC provided by NetGalley

Richard Hull: Excellent Intentions

40409285Title: 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. 

Rating: B-

“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