The story starts with a courtroom scene. Attorney-General Anstruther Blayton leads the court through prosecution and defence. Inspector Fenby leads the investigation. Four suspects are identified and one is in the dock as the court proceeds. But who is it?
The reader is then given a detailed description of the events leading to the present.
Great Barwick’s least popular man, Launcelot Henry Cuthbert Cargate, dies in mysterious circumstances in a railway carriage on Friday, 13th July. Mr Hardy saw the victim hold a pinch of snuff between his thumb and index finger. And the next thing that happened – Henry Cargate sneezed violently and collapsed.
The witness, Mr Hardy reminisces the events that occurred just before the victim’s death. He seemed to be in a foul mood. He reprimanded the station master for the train being late. Then, he gets into an argument with Jim the porter. Jim’s dog isn’t spared of insinuations either! Poor mongrel!
Henry had a heart condition. Is it possible that the sneeze was the cause of his death? Or, did someone poison his snuff. Dr Gardiner is called for help and the chap thinks the snuff smells funny. So he pockets whatever is left of it before asking the officials to clean the railway carriage.
Plot to Story Development
The first part of the story is interesting. I wish I could say the same about the other half. It gets a tad lengthy and if I may add, a bit boring at times. Suspects are interviewed and their alibis are checked. If the accused is guilty of the crime, then the alibis are correct. if not, someone’s given a false alibi. Hah!
Inspector Fenby is a pretty good sleuth. His doubts about a certain something plays a major role as the story ends. However, the talk of roses and stamps got a bit too lengthy at times. As someone who collects stamps and loves gardening, I did enjoy this detailed talk about roses and stamps. I also found the stamp talk informative. It also gives the reader a peek into the deceased’s sinister doings. Having said that, I also felt that the excessive detailing wasn’t necessary.
The butler, the secretary, the stamp dealer and the vicar. Each of these people has their own stories. Henry accused the stamp dealer of stealing one of his rare stamps. Previously, the stamp dealer had found some of Henry’s stamps to be fake and this created quite a stir between the two.
Henry also accused the vicar of stealing an emerald encrusted on his snuff box. Henry was used to doing such things – falsely accuse people of stealing his things and then laugh about it. Such a sadistic fella, I tell you! But no matter how evil a person is, they do not deserve to be murdered.
Then there’s the secretary and the butler. Both had opportunity and motive to kill their employer. Also, Henry’s eccentricities had no limits. After his death, his property goes to the country. Patriotism, you see. One cannot contest the will either. Not that anyone would, as the guy was a loner.
The best part of this story – the accused is addressed as ‘the suspect’ and not by name until the end. This keeps the curiosity factor and suspense alive throughout the story. Having read The Murder of my Aunt, I would say Excellent Intentions is pretty humorless, except for the ‘Jim and his dog’ scene, perhaps.
Okay, I am a fan of majestic/great/whatchamacallit endings. I really like endings in which the accused is either found guilty or, if falsely accused, then the real perp must be brought to justice. The accused committing suicide is also a good ending in my opinion. Somehow, I did not like the way things end here. As a courtroom drama based mystery, Excellent Intentions is good. If you are looking for something spectacular, maybe you should try Hull’s other works – The Murder of my Aunt, perhaps?
Title: Excellent Intentions
Author: Richard Hull
Re-published by BL_Publishing on 5th June 2018
Genre: Mystery Classics
Featured Image Credits: Goodreads