Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull – Review
By Sandra Callard
Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull is one of a series of resurrected Golden Age crime fiction books from the British Library Crime Classics.
Richard Hull is now a mostly forgotten name in crime fiction, although he received critical acclaim for his first novel The Murder of My Aunt in 1934, and went on to write a further fourteen crime fiction novels over the next twenty years. He accrued a solid following, mainly due to the varied and unusual themes of his books.
Excellent Intentions is such a book; a courtroom drama where we do not know the name of the accused who stands in the dock.
The mild-mannered, but intellectually astute, detective is Inspector Fenby, an introspective character who diligently picks his way through the sparse clues to the murder, or possibly natural death, of the extremely wealthy but also extremely unpleasant, Launcelot Henry Cuthbert Cargate.
The finite number of suspects is four, and Fenby decides his only chance of exposing the culprit, is to work out the available times when each suspect can have had access to the murder weapon. This is a supremely work-intensive way of finding a murderer, and Fenby achieves it in style.
This method of detection is clever but vastly complicated and requires an excellent memory, perhaps more so on the part of the reader than on that of the detective. For myself it required much re-reading of the sections devoted to the timing of the four suspects, until the clue was assimilated by my brain. I have to admit that when it did become clear to me I felt a stab of triumph equal, I am sure, to Inspector Fenby’s.
The diction of Hull’s characters, through his prose, is wonderfully indicative of the social standing of the speaker. It is extremely difficult to convey the sound of speech successfully, and Hull manages to do this with ease by adding succinct adjectives to the speech. The welcome upshot of this is that the speaker becomes almost audible. It is a rare talent and adds hugely to the enjoyment of the book.
Excellent Intentions is very much of its era in its social descriptions and comments, and this is one of its charms. The snuffbox, used as a daily ritual, the servants, badly treated but fearful of losing their positions, and the reliable and numerous trains, whose wheels made such an efficacious and sleep-inducing sound, are here in stark authenticity.
I enjoyed this book, even though it required my serious attention if I was not to lose the plot. It is unique in that the death of the victim is not mourned by anyone, even the vicar, but is looked upon as a blessing by those who knew him. The murderer is not seen as a scourge of society, but rather a benefactor who has enriched their lives. Not sentiments that would go down well these days, but truly felt and admitted.
The ending must never be told, but it is all it should be – surprising, with some further development after the verdict. Unusual, satisfying and a good solid read.
‘Excellent Intentions’ by Richard Hull is published by The British Library, £8.99