Friday 24 May 2013

Forgotten Book - Murder Isn't Easy

Is it a typo? you may wonder. Is he thinking of Murder is Easy, the far from forgotten title by Agatha Christie? Well, the answer to both questions is no. My Forgotten Book today is a very interesting but neglected gem, written by Richard Hull. Murder Isn't Easy was first published in 1936, a couple of years before Christie's book appeared. He really was ahead of his time!

The book has two distinctive strengths. First, it's wittily written, and the humour has by no means dated badly. I found the story entertaining from start to finish, making some allowances for the passage of time. Second, it is a book with an unusual and very clever structure. Hull's debut, Murder of My Aunt, had a sort of unreliable narrator. Here, we have a great deal of unreliable narration, with the story told from four different viewpoints.

The setting is an advertising business - shades of Sayers' Murder Must Advertise. Hull's account of the business suggests some personal knowledge, though he was an accountant. Perhaps he'd audited such a firm. This one has three equal shareholders, all of whom are rather unattractive men. Latimer, who relates the first section of the story, is in some ways reminiscent of Edward, main protagonist of Murder of My Aunt. The unlovely trio also employ an artist and a secretary, and one remarkable social insight is the easy way that employers used to debate the merits of sacking a woman once she got married. You don't have to be an employment lawyer like me to find this extraordinary.

I don't want to say too much about the story-line, because after a slowish start, it develops in a very effective way. I'm not sure I've read a book quite like this one. And it offers a good example of Hull's particular and enviable gift, to conjure up highly original situations. Sometimes he struggled to execute them in a way that held reader interest to the end, but this little-known story is definitely one of his best.


J F Norris said...

This one has eluded me for years, but I keep looking. Came very close to winning a cheap copy on eBay a long time ago, but the book gods were not smiling upon me that day. After reading this review now I want to read it even more.

Bob_in_MA said...

I'd never heard of Hull, but his books sound intriguing. I looked for this one in libraries, etc., and it's only available used for $60+!

But I did find a copy of "The Murder of My Aunt" for less than $5.

Thanks for the post!

Martin Edwards said...

Fingers crossed you get it soon, John.
Bob, he is a very interesting writer, if a bit mixed.

Rich said...

'The Ghost It Was' was pretty dreadful, but 'Keep It Quiet' is well worth a read.