The Reprint of the Year Award
As I explained last week, Kate Jackson, who blogs over at Cross Examining Crime, had a brilliant idea for our little group of Golden Age crime fiction fans: she thought we should create a prize for the Reprint of the Year.
As Kate says in this blogpost:
The number of publishers reprinting vintage mysteries is on the increase, meaning us lucky fans are getting access to more and more of the books and authors we want to try. With so many novels and short story collections on offer, it can be hard to pick out the very best, which is where the Reprint of the Year Awards come in.Sooo… we have each chosen two novels to put forward for the award, and today we are each going to post the review of our second one.
On 22nd December Kate will set up a poll for this award, listing the 18 titles we bloggers have chosen, as well as 2 readers’ choices.
On 29th December Kate will reveal the results of the poll, announcing the title which has won the accolade of Reprint of the Year!
There will be readers’ write-in candidates – put your suggestions in the comments either below, or on Kate’s blog.
See also last week’s post, when I wrote about Bats in the Belfry by ECR Lorac. And Kate’s post last week, which has all the details and all the links.
And now on to my second choice:
Excellent Intentions by Richard Hullfirst published 1938, reprinted by British Library Crime Classics in 2018
Until recently the only Hull book I had read is The Murder of My Aunt – that’s his most famous title and I bought a reprint of it 20 years ago. It is a clever, funny book: and so is this one. Both books are slightly tricksy – here because it is a courtroom drama, with flashbacks to the actual crime, but you have no idea who is in the dock for the murder of Henry Cargate, ‘Great Barwick’s least popular man’. The action of the book lines up four obvious suspects, and it is only on p178 (by my reckoning) of a book of just over 200 pages that we find out who has been accused.
And then the remaining pages are devoted to the verdict, and then a coda.
It is beautifully done – the book is light and enjoyable, and Hull doesn’t let his workings show, so this most unusual feature doesn’t seem forced, just very clever.
The victim dies on a train, and in the first few pages the lead-up to the incident is described, including this:
Cargate himself moved a few yards down the platform in the direction from which the train would come, apparently under the impression that that would hasten its arrival.-which gives a good impression of the whole book: funny and observational.
The victim is an extremely unpleasant man, and Hull does a good job of making that clear. The rest of the characters are not deeply involving, it must be said, but the story rattles along nicely. There is a long section devoted to stamp-collecting, and the buying and selling of stamps, and opportunities for fakery and fraud. Despite myself, I found it very interesting. Growing, picking and arranging flowers also turn out to be important. And wasps, of course, which we all know require poison to kill them…
I was prepared to be slightly disappointed by the end of the book – I had enjoyed it without being over-impressed by the actual murder and its solution, or the very tight circle of suspects. But then Hull had another trick up its sleeve, and it was unexpected and unusual, and lifts the book onto another level.
It was certainly an easy read, and painted a nice picture of the village, the big house, and the people all around.
On balance I liked it better than last week’ book, Lorac’s Bats in the Belfry.
Excellent Intentions is a highly recommended reprint and this author very much deserves rediscovery. The tricks in it are very clever, the picture of life is engrossing, and it is a shame that Hull is either forgotten, or remembered only for (the admittedly very good) Death of My Aunt.
So it deserves your vote in our poll!
Couple of the era sitting relaxing from Kristine’s photostream.
Smart gent ready for travel from the NYPL collection.