Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull

Twelve jurors have been summoned to deliberate the case of the murder of Henry Cargate. Cargate, a generally unpopular figure, was apparently killed by poisoned snuff. The prosecution and defence stand ready to prosecute… who?

When Inspector Fenby investigated the case, there were four clear suspects. As the case proceeds, and events flash back to the investigation, the evidence begins to mount. But which of the four suspects is the individual standing in the dock? And are they guilty?

I’m reading Richard Hull, recently republished by both the British Library (The Murder Of My Aunt and this one) and Ipso Books (Murder Isn’t Easy, Keep It Quiet and the upcoming The Ghost It Was) in sort of the wrong order. Murder Isn’t Easy was outstanding, The Murder Of My Aunt was interesting, if a little like a long shaggy dog story and Excellent Intentions is… perfectly fine. Just that – perfectly fine.

It’s a surprisingly standard mystery novel, with the courtroom structure adding an interesting frame to the story. After the lexicographical legerdemain of the other two books though, I expected it to be more than just a frame. Instead, it’s just an entertaining sideshow for a classic murder mystery.

As for the mystery, it’s fairly clued, but… it’s a bit time-tabley, with lots of working out who was where and when and who might be lying. It’s rather small-scale and felt a bit repetitive in places.

But it’s a classically clued mystery with some interesting points and perfectly entertaining as Golden Age mysteries are. But after two great reads from Richard Hull, this felt like an anti-climax. Well Worth A Look but don’t have too high an expectation…

5 comments

  1. Oh. I was hoping this would be better, as it’s my first hard-copy purchase from the British Library Crime Classics collection for a long time, since purchasing my Kindle. Then again, I haven’t read the other two Hull titles, and so perhaps I might enjoy it more than you did.

    Incidentally, what do you mean by “a long shaggy dog story”? You used a similar phrase when you commented on John Rhode’s “Peril at Cranbury Hall”.

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    • Can’t really explain without spoiling it. But a shaggy dog story is basically a long build up to a joke, sometimes clever, often not, but often feeling as if the writer thought of the punchline first and then worked backwards.

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