Friday, 24 June 2016

Forgotten Book - Murder Intended

Murder Intended, one of five police novels written by Francis Beeding, first appeared in 1932. It sank from sight fairly rapidly, and I know that John Cooper, who wrote an excellent article about Beeding's police quintet for CADS four years ago, doesn't rate it as highly as the other four. But I found it very readable, and also innovative. Beeding strays far from the conventional, and this may disconcert some readers, but I found the story refreshingly different, and it has stuck in my mind.

It all begins in very orthodox fashion, though. The Delft clan come together for an annual gathering prescribed by the will of the late Jasper Delft. Members of the family are dependent on the goodwill of Jasper's widow, Agatha, and woe betide them if they don't turn up. Almost inevitably, the conversation turns to what would happen if Aunt Agatha were no longer around. What about murdering her?

Seasoned readers of Golden Age detective fiction will settle down in anticipation of a mystery where Aunt Agatha comes to a sticky end, and the finger of suspicion points at one after another of her impoverished relatives. But they will quickly be surprised. When a murder does take place, it is of a very unexpected kind.

I won't say too much about the plot, although a key development is revealed at an early stage (this was the aspect of the book that John didn't care for.). I see the book as an experiment with a form of inverted mystery - although we know whodunit, the fascination lies in seeing whether the culprit will be apprehended before further mischief is done. Beeding builds the suspense nicely in the second half of the book, and in some ways the Beeding novels strike me as forerunners of the work of Michael Gilbert, another smooth writer who never liked to repeat himself. I'm only sorry that, due to their fondness for writing thrillers, they didn't produce more detective stories.

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