Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull

Snuffed out…

😀 😀 🙂

Henry Cargate has offended just about everyone who has had anything to do with him, so when he takes a huge pinch of snuff unaware it’s been laced with potassium cyanide and dies, really anyone could be a suspect. But a person has been charged with the crime and is now about to be tried. As the lawyer for the prosecution lays out the investigation and evidence for the jury, the reader is invited to tag along. But unlike the jury, the reader is not told the identity of the accused until the end.

This is a rather fun conceit, where most of the story is therefore told in flashback through the eyes of the various people called to give evidence at the trial. Although the whole world had a motive (if being deeply unpleasant is a good enough reason to be murdered, that is), the poison that was mixed with the snuff was only accessible at certain very limited times in Cargate’s own study, so the actual pool of suspects is quite limited.

I’ve had a great run with these British Library Crime Classics recently, but unfortunately I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I hoped. I’d read and loved Hull’s other entry, The Murder of My Aunt, so had high expectations for this one. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the book. It’s just that it depends almost entirely on timing and alibis to discover who could have had access to the poison, and that’s never my favourite kind of crime book. I know loads of people love to try to beat the detective in this kind of puzzle, but my tastes don’t run in that direction. I prefer books that concentrate on characterisation and motives rather than on means and opportunity. I’m afraid as the detective began to make lists of who could have been in a corridor at a specific four-minute period, or calculate whether it would be possible for someone to be seen from a certain angle through a door and so on, my eyes glazed over. I didn’t know, but what was worse, I didn’t care. I eventually began to skip whole pages, though I tuned in again in time for the solution and the rather enjoyable twist in the tail.

Richard Hull

This is very definitely a subjective criticism – a case of wrong reader, wrong book. The quality of the writing is good, there are enough touches of humour to make it entertaining rather than grim and I’m pretty sure all the alibi stuff is very clever. So if that’s the type of puzzle that intrigues you, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the book far more than I did. But sadly, not my cup of tea.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

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28 thoughts on “Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull

  1. Oh, that’s a shame. I’ve just read The Murder of My Aunt and loved it, so I was looking forward to reading this one. The type of detective novel you describe isn’t my favourite either, but I’ll probably still give it a try anyway.

    • I loved The Murder of My Aunt too which made me feel even worse about not enjoying this one. But really, there’s nothing wrong with it – just not my kind of thing – so hopefully you’ll enjoy it more than I did.

  2. Some people love those ‘alibi’ sorts of novels, FictionFan, but, for those who don’t, I can see how that aspect of the plot would move slowly and take away from the story. Shame, because I know how much you liked The Murder of My Aunt. But still, not every book is for every reader. And the ‘exactly where was she during those five minutes’ sorts of plots aren’t for everyone, either.

    • I think I’m too lazy a reader for the alibi type of book. I don’t absorb the details that are needed to make my own guess so it all becomes a bit tedious. Never mind! Since I’ve loved the last several of the BL classics, I can’t complain – onwards and upwards! 😉

  3. I must always get the wrong crime book then, because I get the glazed eyes frequently. And it tends to be about the who was there in these few brief moments and who could have owned this one object that would pin them down as the actual murderer blah blah blah.

    • There’s always a bit of the “who could have been there at the right time” stuff in most mysteries. I don’t mind if it’s a minor aspect, but I never enjoy when it becomes a major part of the whole thing…

  4. It’s a shame – I do like the puzzles Agatha Christie invented in her books, but this sounds too precise for me. I had the same reaction to one of John Bude’s books, The Lake District Murder in which Inspector Meredith and his colleagues carried out calculations to work out petrol deliveries to the local garages, the lorries’ loads and the petrol storage capacities at the various garages – boring!

    • Yes, I can take a bit of the Professor Plum in the Library with the Lead Piping stuff, but not when it becomes the whole focus of the book. Pity, because I do think it’s done quite well in this one, but just not for me. Ha! I read another one that also had a lot of stuff about petrol and mileages in it – maybe rationing had made them all a bit obsessed… 😉

  5. This sounds like one that I would enjoy more than perhaps you did not least because the murder weapon is my favourite a good dose of poison but also because I do sometimes enjoy detective stories that rely on the details. Great review as ever!

    • Ha – cyanide if memory serves me right! For the notorious wasps’ nests – those wasps always seem to get the blame! 😉 I’m sure you would enjoy it more then – it seemed to me it was done well and the writing is very good with a touch of humour. Just not my cuppa, sadly…

    • I do find them variable, though I’ve been a real winning streak with them recently. And I certainly wouldn’t want to out anyone of this one – if it’s the kind of thing you enjoy, then I think it’s a good example… 😀

  6. Ah yes, I feel the same way. If it gets way too particular, I tend to lose interest as well. I’m just not that ‘close’ enough of a reader I suppose, I glaze over those tiny details.

    • Yes, I don’t absorb details so these kind of mysteries never work for me. I don’t mind if it makes up a small bit of the plot, but not when it’s the major aspect.

    • The cover is gorgeous, isn’t it? One of their best, and they’re ALL great! If this is your kind of thing, then I do recommend it – it seemed to me it was a good example of its kind, well written and with some humour. Just didn’t work for me, sadly.

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