Friday, 14 April 2017

Forgotten Book - The Martineau Murders

The Martineau Murders is the last novel published by Richard Hull. An obscure and hard-to-find title, It appeared under the Collins Crime Club imprint in 1953, and it marked the end of an interesting literary career. I've mentioned my enthusiasm for Hull (real name Richard Henry Sampson) several times on this blog, and I've been trying to find out more about him for years..

In  his day, he was much admired, and he continued to play an active part in the Detection Club, of which he was Secretary, for a long time after he gave up writing. It seems to me that he lost enthusiasm for fiction, as there is a touch of weariness evident in some of his post-war books. None of them lived up to his famous debut, The Murder of My Aunt. But The Martineau Murders represents a return to that book. Not because there are any common characters or a shared setting, but certainly some story elements are to be found in both novels.

"My doctor has just left me" is the opening sentence. Alas, the medic has brought bad news to the narrator, the eponymous Martineau, or so it seems. But Martineau is a rather unreliable narrator, and much of the pleasure of the story comes from the reader's recognition of the gulf between Martineau's perceptions and reality. Some of this is, perhaps, rather laboured for modern tastes, and this is a book that (like one or two of Hull's other books) could have done with a meatier plot, but it is still quite entertaining.

By the time this book was written, more than a decade had passed since the appearance of the last book by Francis Iles, the author whose Malice Aforethought was a profound influence on Hull. The two men laced their work with a good deal of irony, and the law of unintended consequences plays a central part in their fiction. So it is with The Martineau Murders, a village mystery with a pleasing if foreseeable twist in the final chapter.

5 comments:

Holden said...

I have a copy of this author's second book, Keep It Quiet, concerning murder in a traditional London men's club. So perhaps it would be worthwhile to conduct a search for this late title, as the earlier books indeed showed promise. But there seem to be few reprints of this author, so I may be out of luck. Are there any other titles you enjoyed reading?

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Holden. Try Excellent Intentions or My Own Murderer, both very interesting and unusual. A very obscure book, And Death Came Too, is also of interest.

Ted said...

Unfortunately, for we American fans of Hull his six postwar books were never published in the US making them difficult to obtain.

Martin, I just finished The Murderers of Monty a few weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Sure, it's not his best work, but it kept me interested so that I completed it in just a few days. My only complaint would be that it had too much detail regarding financial bonds and coupons.

Arthur Robinson said...

Bookfinder.com and abebooks.com are good places to locate hard-to-find books, and you can register free “wants” with abebooks; that’s how I was able to get Hull’s post-war books. It looks as if most of Hull’s scarce postwar novels are available, but expensive: The Martineau Murders and A Matter of Nerves are around $150, Invitation to an Inquest over $200. Last First, a 1947 novel, is £45 in abebooks; Until She Was Dead is $125. I got most of these cheaper with abebooks wants, though it took years (and I finally had to pay a bundle for The Martineau Murders).

If anyone is interested in hardcover copies of Hull’s And Death Came Too, The Unfortunate Murderer, or The Murder of My Aunt (US editions)-- I think I also have an extra copy of Left-handed Death (published only in the UK)--please contact me at awrobins@yahoo.com ; I have duplicate copies I’m willing to sell and will sell them cheaper than copies listed online.

I’ve only read a few of Hull’s books, but I too recommend Excellent Intentions (published in the US as Beyond Reasonable Doubt). Penguin reprinted Excellent Intentions, so it’s easier to find (and cheaper).

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Ted, you may well find Arthur's comment of great interest. To anyone reading these comments, I can say that I've bought several items from Arthur and I've always found that his prices are extremely fair and good value.