Friday, June 29, 2018

The Murder of my Aunt - Richard Hull

There are now two Richard Hull's in in the British Library Crime Classics series, a handful available reasonably cheaply second hand, and a couple more being reprinted elsewhere. I read and really liked  Excellent Intentions about a month ago which had been one of his lesser known books (although if you're not a series vintage crime fan, they're all unknown). 'The Murder of my Aunt' was Hull's first book, and the one that had been apparently regarded as his best, and certainly seems to have been the best known.

My personal preference is for 'Excellent Intentions'. I enjoyed the thorough unpleasantness of the victim, the way Hull makes his reader plot through pages of trivia about stamp collecting, and keeps you guessing until the end about which of the unlikely suspects did it. (I don't actually think it's too difficult to guess, but the unlikeliness of at least two of the suspects is fun.) In short, Hull's sense of humour in this book really appeals to me.

'The Murder of my Aunt' has many of the same traits, but is a little bit more troubling. In short there is an incident between the narrator, Edward, and his aunt. She determines he'll make a stiff walk into the village to pick up some books on a hot day, he determines that he won't. In the end she wines after involving half the village in her machinations, and Edward decides that the only answer is to kill her. What follows are a series of attempts that keep going wrong.

Edward is a fairly loathsome character. Lazy, greedy, vain, affected, undisciplined, vengeful, and a supporter of the "virile" Oswald Mosley, as well as a devoted reader of banned French novels. Aunt Mildred seems just as spiteful, given to rages, and mean spirited, though, and if neither seem particularly well balanced, Edward at least has the excuse of youth.

I assume the reader is meant to feel slightly more sympathy for Mildred than Edward, but I didn't, partly because it's also implied that Edward is gay as if that's another character deficiency, partly because she just seems like the sort of woman you would fantasise about murdering if you lived with her - and both of those things nagged at me whilst I read.

Beyond that discomfort about how Edward is portrayed however, there was all the same black humour and sly wit that made 'Excellent Intentions' so enjoyable. The plot feels fresh, the digressions are splendid, and the difficulty in getting rid of troublesome aunts here should relieve troublesome aunts everywhere.

No comments:

Post a Comment