The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull

The Murder of My Aunt

Poisoned Pen Press|4 September 2018 |227 pages|e-book |Review copy|5*

This edition, published in association with the British Library, has an introduction by Martin Edwards. It was first published in 1934 by Hamish Hamilton. It was Richard Hull’s first novel. His real name was Richard Henry Sampson (1896 – 1973) and up until 1934 he had worked as a chartered accountant. With the success of The Murder of My Aunt he devoted himself to writing.

The Murder of My Aunt is one of the best of the classic crime fiction novels from the Golden Age that I’ve read. On the face of it has a straightforward plot as Edward Powell, the narrator for most of the book, plots to murder his Aunt Mildred. They live in a house called Brynmawr on the outskirts of the Welsh town of Llwll. Mildred is his guardian, his parents having died in mysterious circumstances when Edward was very young. He detests living in Lwll and he also detests his aunt. It’s a contest of wills as Mildred finds Edward a great trial, she sees all his faults – he is selfish, self-centred, vain and lazy and foppishly effeminate – and she constantly nags him to change his ways, or she will ‘have to take action’. Edward, though decides that he will take action, thinking his life would be so much better without Mildred and he sets out to find a way to arrange her death so that no suspicion will fall on him. He makes copious notes of various methods and the steps he plans to take and that’s more difficult than he expected as his attempts keep failing.

But it’s the writing that lifts this book from the ordinary to an original and funny murder mystery and, whilst not laugh-out-loud funny, I thought it was brilliant. It’s witty and ironic from the start as Edward pontificates on the pronunciation of the word ‘Lwll’.  Neither Edward nor Mildred come across as caricatures, but as real people, both of them with their own faults. Edward is just so insufferably awful that I felt on Mildred’s side in their battle of wits, even though she shows him up in front of the whole village – and after all she had brought him up.

Once I started to read The Murder of My Aunt I was captivated and I had to read it quickly, anxious to find out if Edward did manage to kill his aunt. It makes very entertaining reading and I loved the ending, which took me by surprise and I thought was so clever – definitely a 5* read for me!

Now I’m looking forward to reading more of  Richard Hull’s books and have Excellent Intentions lined up to read soon.

My thanks to the publishers, Poisoned Pen Press, for my review copy via NetGalley.

This is qualifies for the Mount TBR Challenge and for the Calendar of Crime Challenge for March in the category of a book in which money/fortune/inheritance has a major role.

My Friday Post: The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I have just started to read The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull, a Crime Classic first published in 1934.

The Murder of My Aunt

It begins:

My aunt lives just outside the small (and entirely frightful) town of Llwll. That is exactly the trouble.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Pages 55-56:

Blood is so repellent. In fact the very thought is so disturbing that I had to stop writing and read a story of de Maupassant’s to calm my nerves, before I could continue to write these notes.

~~~

Blurb

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. A darkly humorous depiction of fraught family ties, The Murder of My Aunt was first published in 1934.

This tempts me in different ways – I like the title, I like murder mysteries and I like the promise of humour. And I like the cover too.

 
What do you think? Does it tempt you or would you stop reading? 

The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson

Poisoned Pen Press|4 December 2018 |227 pages|e-book |Review copy|5*

This edition, published in association with the British Library, has a preface by Rachel Reeves, Member of Parliament for Leeds West and an introduction by Martin Edwards. It was first published in 1932 by George G Harrap & Co.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Division Bell Mystery – it’s entertaining on several levels both from the mystery ‘locked room’ aspect and historically, socially and culturally with its insight into how Parliament worked in the 1930s and the status of women in Parliament in the inter-war years. In fact political commentary runs throughout the novel. It was a period of great social injustice, people were still struggling in the aftermath of the Great War – a period of mass unemployment with demands for both political and social change.

Ellen Wilkinson was one of the first women Labour MPs. I’ve come across her before as a fiery politician, known as ‘Red Ellen’ both for her red hair and her left-wing politics. She supported the men from Jarrow in Tyneside in 1936 as they marched from their home town to London to present a petition against the mass unemployment and extreme poverty in the north-east of England. She marched with them for part of the way and handed in their petition to the House of Commons.

She was a keen murder mystery fan and The Division Bell Mystery is her one entry into the Golden Age Detective fiction. The classic mystery was popular in the interwar years as people entertained themselves with puzzles such as the ‘locked room’ mysteries as in this book.

The main character is the Home Secretary’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, young Robert West. As a Parliamentary Private Secretary herself, Ellen Wilkinson portrays his role and political intrigue with convincing detail. There’s a financial crisis and the Home Secretary is negotiating with the American financier Georges Oissel for a loan. The Division Bell rings – a signal to MPs to cast their votes – and West is shocked to hear a gunshot as he is making his way down the corridor leading to Room J, where the Home Secretary and Oissel had been dining. On entering the room he finds the Home Secretary has left to vote and Oissel is slumped on the floor, his shirt front stained with blood and a revolver lying beside him. No one else was in the room, no one had been seen entering or leaving the room and there is no evidence of who had killed him. It falls to West to work with the police investigating his death.

It is a nicely complicated mystery but for me it is the setting and the characters that makes this book so interesting. West is the main character but I particularly liked Grace Richards, a young female MP, based on Ellen Wilkinson herself – in her preface Rachel Reeves points out the similarities between Ellen and Grace. Once I started to read The Division Bell Mystery I didn’t want to put it down – definitely a 5* read for me!

My thanks to the publishers, Poisoned Pen Press, for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number …

9

which for me is He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by August 31, 2018.

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My copy is a Golden Age Mystery, one of the Green Penguin Crime and Mystery series paperbacks, published in 1953 (first published in 1946). It features Dr Gideon Fell.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At the edge of the woods by the river stands the tower. Once part of a chateau since burnt down, only the tower remains. The inside is but a shell with a stone staircase climbing spirally up the wall to a flat stone roof with a parapet.

One that parapet the body of Howard Brooke lay bleeding. The murderer, when Brooke’s back was turned, must have drawn the sword-cane from it sheath and run him through the body. And this must have occurred between ten minutes to four and five minutes past four, when the two children discovered him dying.

Yet the evidence showed conclusively that during this time not a living soul came near him.

I’m looking forward to reading He Who Whispers as I  haven’t read any of Carr’s books before and I’m really pleased one of the crime fiction novels I listed came up in the Spin.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

Fire in the Thatch: A London Mystery (British Library Crime Classics ) by E C R Lorac

A Golden Age Mystery

Poisoned Pen Press|5 June  2018 |240 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*

Bats in the Belfry: A London Mystery (British Library Crime Classics ) by E C R Lorac

Poisoned Pen Press  2018 |233 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*

Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes: a Book Review

A Golden Age Mystery

Death at the President's Lodging 001

This is the first Inspector Appleby mystery by Michael Innes. What struck me most about Death at the President’s Lodging is that it is essentially a ‘locked room’ mystery. Dr Umpleby, the unpopular president of St Anthony’s College (a fictional college similar to an Oxford college)  is found in his study, shot through the head.

 

The crime was at once intriguing and bizarre, efficient and theatrical. It was efficient because nobody knew who had committed it. And it was theatrical because of a macabre and necessary act of fantasy with which the criminal, it was quickly rumoured, had accompanied his deed. (page 1)

Inspector Appleby from Scotland Yard is in charge of the investigation, helped by Inspector Dodd from the local police force. They provide an interesting contrast, both in appearance, age and methods. Appleby is an intellectual, contemplative, preferring to study human nature rather than rely on the use of finger prints and material evidence. Dodd is reliant on routine and although untrained and unspecialised is shrewd and thorough. They know each other and make a good pair. This passage sums up their working relationship:

And now Dodd for all his fifteen stone and an uncommon tiredness (he had been working on the case since early morning), sprang up with decent cordiality to welcome his colleague. ‘The detective arrives,’ he said with a deep chuckle when greetings had been exchanged, ‘and the village policeman hands over the body with all the misunderstood clues to date.’ (page 5)

What follows is an extremely convoluted and complex investigation of the strange crime. Without the plan at the beginning of the book I would have been lost. The college is divided into different areas and each area is locked each evening, shutting it off from the outside world and shutting one part of the college off from the rest. Dodd describes it as a ‘submarine within a submarine’. The questions are how did the murderer get in and out, who had keys, and why was Umpleby murdered?

Appleby and Dodd interview the Fellows of the College, each of whom it seems at first could have had reason to murder Umpleby. Who is telling the truth? I couldn’t tell and there are innumerable clues to mystify both the police and the reader. Appleby watches and listens, recognising that he is not going to get a quick result in such a complicated case. Of course, in the end he works it all out. He gathers together the Fellows and calls on a number of them to give their statements of the facts as they know them. They each suspect a different person as the culprit, but Appleby gradually eliminates the suspects to reveal the murderer.

It was masterly. It’s also a book that you can’t read quickly. It requires concentration. There is little action, much description and a lot of analysis. I enjoyed it very much, but after reading it I felt my brain needed a little rest.

I also wrote about Michael Innes in my Crime Fiction Alphabet series of posts – I is for Innes.