Friday, 9 June 2017

Forgotten Book - Until She Was Dead

Richard Hull, author of today's Forgotten Book, was one of the most interesting Golden Age detective novelists. He was strongly influence by the work of Anthony Berkeley, writing as Francis Iles - it was as a result of reading Iles' instant classic Malice Aforethought that Hull decide to try his hand at writing a crime story. And Iles' cynicism and ironic view of the world is matched by Hull's.

What I like about Berkeley/Iles is that he was always keen to try something different. He showed courage as a writer, and even though some of the risks he took didn't come off, it seems to me that a writer who pushes the boundaries, and isn;t content to write the same book over and over again is to be admired. Following a formula, as many notable crime writers do, is all very well, but it's not really as exciting or inspiring.

Hull was an innovator, and was especially keen on playing tricky games with story structure. Again, it's undeniable that some of his tricks fell rather flat, and also that in his later work he began to struggle to match the originality of his earlier work. But even his weaker novels generally boast points of interest as far as a modern reader is concerned.

This is so with Until She Was Dead, which was first published in 1949. Again, Hull experiments with structure - we know from the outset that there is to be a murder trial, but we don't know who the victim was. So it's a form of "whowasdunin" story We then flash back in time, and see the build up to a crime committed, I have to say, by a rather chancy and unlikely means. In his personal life, Hull was keen on wine and philately, and both play a part in this story.

Unfortunately the small cast of suspects doesn't contain characters we care about - a recurrent weakness of this interesting and unorthodox author. The police detective, who sees the best in everyone, is a pleasing invention, but I felt the story flagged far too soon. So although I enjoyed its unusual features, overall I can't claim that it's a neglected masterpiece. A minor work from a writer of talent.

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