It’s been a while since I last wrote a review on an adult book! So let’s start with one of the funniest detectives I’ve read recently: Excellent Intentions.
Published originally: 1938
Rating: 4 stars
Age group: adult
Country: United Kingdom
‘From the point of view of the nation, it’s a good thing that he died.’
Great Barwick’s least popular man is murdered on a train. Twelve jurors sit in court. Four suspects are identified – but which of them is on trial? This novel has all the makings of a classic murder mystery, but with a twist: as Attorney-General Anstruther Blayton leads the court through prosecution and defence, Inspector Fenby carries out his investigation. All this occurs while the identity of the figure in the dock is kept tantalisingly out of reach.
This book is totally different than any other detective I’ve read, usually we get the point of view from the detective, we feel sorry for the person murdered, or at least feel sorry for the family of the victim… but not with this one. You don’t really care about the victim, he’s an asshole and he isn’t afraid to be one. I admire him for it, but I really didn’t care he got killed, but I did want to know who did it! With other books where I didn’t care about the victim, I didn’t care about finding out who did it, but you start hating the victim so much, you want to know who finally snapped!
Everyone is a suspect, the vicar, the gardener, the personal assistant, the stamp collector… All of them seem really reasonable to be the actual killer, everyone had opportunity, everyone had a motive, everyone could be it!! You really needed to pay attention before you realised who actually did it, and I didn’t guess it until the end!
The book isn’t divided into chapters, but rather where we were in the trial:
5. Summing up
I liked it, but the chapters were too long for my liking, especially the first two. So no “one more chapter!!” before bed!
The story gets told by the witnesses in court. All of them give their version of events and while they talk, we get the story in “real time”. The court setting felt really real, the questions seemed realistic and the lawyers seemed so too! It was really fun to read it like this for a change, instead of in “real time” all the time like detectives usually do.
The writing is something you need to get used to, you really have to be aware of where you are in the story, because in one shot you’re at the manor talking to the gardener, and the next you are in court talking to the stationmaster! At several points in time I got really confused as to where we are in the story, because I was reading it casually… Other than that, the humor in this book makes everything worth it. This book feels more like a parody on the detective genre than it feels like a detective itself.
With that said, don’t read this book as your first detective, because it’s so different to the usual detectives! The humour is something you need to get and I think you can only get it if you’ve read about 10 detectives beforehand. I really loved it, but I’ve noticed that more casual detective readers didn’t like it because of that. Mind you, we need to take into account that this book was written in 1938, so the tropes that are used in “newer” detectives weren’t really a thing back then.
I’ve noticed that you either really like this book, or you don’t, and I think that’s mostly due to the writing style. Yes, it does get a bit dry from time to time, but once you get into it, it’s a great edition to any crime lovers collection!
[these are similar because they either take a new take on the detective/mystery novel or are just funny detectives]