When Henry Cargate suddenly collapsed and died while riding on the train, it looked at first as though his weak heart had finally given way after long abuse by its owner. Pretty quickly, however, it became quite clearly a case of murder by poison, the question then becoming one of "who" and, possibly, how. There were certainly enough answers to the question of "why": Cargate was a serial seducer of other men's wives, as well as a bully, a troublemaker, quite possibly a thief and a charlatan, and those weren't by any means his only character flaws. He had contempt for everyone around him, and he had a knack of making trouble for those who displeased him, which was just about everyone. So it was murder, and the fine work of Inspector Fenby seemed to have identified the killer from a limited selection of possibilities. And that person was duly arrested and put on trial for the murder.
All of this information, in fact, is given to the reader at the outset of the story, which is set in the courtroom where the trial is under way. We will hear about the victim, listen to Inspector Fenby explain how the killer was tracked, meet the prosecuting attorney, the defense team and the judge, even the foreman of the jury. The one person we will not have identified for us, however - not until quite late in the book - is the accused killer. We are given that person's reaction to what is being said, but his - or her - identity is carefully concealed. And that gives a very interesting edge to Excellent Intentions, written in 1938 by Richard Hull, an author whose mysteries quite frequently adopted some unusual twist to lure readers into his stories. Excellent Intentions is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You are welcome to listen to the complete review by clicking here.
It is said of Henry Cargate that he had probably done more harm to other people than almost any other private individual in the world. As another observer remarked, “From the point of view of the nation, it’s a good thing that he died.” So…can altruism be a plausible motive for murder? And which of the available suspects is on trial before us? For all that Inspector Fenby - and the sparring attorneys and the judge - like to remind us that murder simply cannot be allowed, that there is no license to kill even the most awful person, the reader's sympathy is very likely to be thoroughly on the side of...whoever is on trial. That may be one reason why the killer's identity is so carefully guarded from the reader in the courtroom scenes. Meanwhile, the investigation turns up interesting and useful clues - but the trial also yields some pretty surprising twists on its way to a conclusion.
Between 1934 and 1953, novelist Richard Hull wrote fifteen mysteries. So far I have read four of those books – and, I must say, I have enjoyed all four of them; I’m fairly confident that the publishers who are now bringing Hull’s books back into circulation will continue to restore more of them for today’s readers to enjoy. Excellent Intentions was the sixth book written by Hull. It is being brought back as part of the British Library Crime Classics series with an introduction by mystery historian Martin Edwards, and it has just been released in the United States this month by Poisoned Pen Press, which provided me with a review copy. It's an interesting experiment in keeping suspense going in a courtroom drama, and I think it's very much worth your time and attention.