Book Review: Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull

‘From the point of view of the nation, it’s a good thing that he died.’

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.

Originally published in 1938, this was recently republished in under the British Library Publishing under their “Classic Crimes” series.

This is a crime story with a slight difference – the events before and after the death of victim is presented to us as part of the prosecution’s case against the person in the dock. The main difference being that, until late in the book, we dont actually know the identity (or even the gender) of the person in the dock.  the majority of the story is presented either directly as evidence as part of the trial, or via the story of the investigations being undertaken to get the evidence.

Fenby is presented as dogged, persistent, and certainly not as stupid as he likes to portray. Blayton is a seasoned barrister, but this is his first significant murder trial. He believes that he is leading the prosecution case in a suitably professional manner, without realising that he is in fact, annoying the judge with his mannerisms.

The majority of the story is presented in retrospect, starting on the day of the death (there is always the uncertainty of whether the death was natural or actually murder), through the death and the subsequent investigation. Much depends on how the poison got into the snuff, and whether it was the snuff or the subsequent sneeze that killed the man with the weak heart.

(This book was actually read a few months ago, and I’ve only just gotten around to reviewing it, so apologies).

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