Friday, 10 May 2013

Forgotten Book -The Murderers of Monty

My forgotten book for today is The Murderers of Monty, a rather obscure title from that intriguing writer Richard Hull. It was first published in 1937, and it features a very appealing central idea. Monty Archer is (like the book's author) a chartered accountant. Unfortunately, he is also, despite his best intentions, rather tedious and irritating. A natural victim in a crime story, you may think.

And you'd be right. So right, in fact, that a number of Monty's acquaintances decide, in light-hearted mood,that it would be no bad thing if he were murdered. The men are professionals -a solicitor, a barrister, a financier and a stockbroker, and they conjure up the idea of forming a company. It's to be called  The Murderers of Monty Limited. Why Limited? Limited to Monty, of course, as one of them cheerfully points out.

The joke falls flat when Monty is actually murdered. Who could possibly want to do real harm to him? It's a case for Inspector Fenby, the amiable and undemonstrative cop who appeared in several of Hull's books. This, however, is a book which begins splendidly but goes downhill fast as soon as the crime occurs. There is a lot of seemingly endless and inconsequential chit-chat, and Hull's attempts to sustain his appealing idea for the length of a whole novel do not come off. One idea, however entertaining, does not by itself a novel make.

I first read this novel many years ago, and wondered whether the sense of disappointment I felt first time around would persist, given that I'd forgotten the outcome of the story. I'm sorry to say that it did. I'm glad I read it again, because I really enjoyed the opening chapters. But, not for the only time in his career, Hull produced a book that was definitely anti-climactic. A shame, but even so, Hull remains a writer who deserves to be better known. For all the flaws of books such as this, he was constantly striving for originality, and there's something rather admirable in a writer who takes so many risks.


J F Norris said...

I give Hull for being an experimenter in the genre. Sometiems it worked brilliantly like in his debut THE MURDER OF MY AUNT other times it backfired. Ever read LAST FIRST? The title literally is the shortest possible summary of the plot: begins at the end and goes back in time. I tried it but found it got dull very quickly.

Martin Edwards said...

I very much agree, John. Last First was the book I had uppermost in my mind when I commented about Hull's inability to carry through a great idea. But he did some very interesting things with story structure.

Ted said...

Finding a reading copy of this book is extremely difficult here in the US. Of Mr. Hull's first nine books that were published here this is the one that I have been unable to obtain through inter-library loan. Just a few days ago I bought the only cheap copy on (a dilapidated, ex-library edition for $30) and am eagerly awaiting its arrival.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Ted. Yes, Hull's books are elusive. I do hope some ebook publisher makes them more readily available one day.