Book Corner – July 2020 (3)

The Murder of my Aunt – Richard Hull

Published in 1934 and Hull’s debut in the genre, this is a delightful romp with quite a twist on conventional murder mysteries from the so-called Golden Age of detective fiction. There is no mystery as such as the reader is quite clear from the outset that the protagonists and narrator for four of the book’s five chapters, Edward Powell, is out to murder his aunt, Mildred. The tension, such as it is, centres around whether he will succeed and how.

Rusticated to the Welsh village of Llwll and forced to live with his aunt, Edward leads a miserable life, or so he thinks. He is effete, hates the countryside and all forms of exercise, indeed being forced to walk down to the village and back makes his mind up to do with her, smokes scented cigarettes, keeps a Pekinese called So-so and has a collection of risqué French novels. Mildred is a hale and hearty country figure, well imbedded into the local community, despairs of Edward’s ways and unwillingness to make his own way in the world. They are like chalk and cheese and the slightest incident in their cocooned existence is blown out of all proportions.

It is possible to read that Hull is portraying Edward as a closet homosexual, although that may just be imposing modern sensibilities on to a characterisation of an example of the effete idlers of the time but if you do think there is that subtext to the book, it makes Mildred’s suspicions that he is making a pass at one of the servants even more amusing. It is impossible to like Edward or even to have some sympathy for his plight. In Hull’s hands he is a man obsessed with his own comforts, selfish and not quite as clever as he thinks he is, the polar opposite of his formidable opponent, Mildred.

Hull’s writing is wonderful. The reader feels that they really get under the skin of the narrator but at the same time is able to spot what is really going on and how unreliable Edward is as a narrator. The book is permeated by a wry, satirical, sometimes slightly black humour and there are some laugh out loud moments as carefully wrought plans are come to naught.

The reader is brought to a halt by the abrupt change of narrator for the final section of the book. I will not say too much about that as it will spoil the denouement of the tale which is surprising and leaves the reader with a smile on their face.     

 This is a wonderful addition to the British Library Crime Classics series. If you want something slightly offbeat and funny, you will not go far wrong in picking up this gem of a book.

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