The Murder of My Aunt is a story in the inverted style, told from the perspective of a young man who is plotting to kill the aunt whom he lives with order to receive an allowance that he regards as pitifully small. It is an overtly comedic tale and, in talking about it with friends, I have likened it to imagining a less imaginative, more feckless Bertie Wooster trying to off his Aunt Agatha without any assistance from Jeeves.
It should be said that not only is this not a conventional mystery novel, it isn’t even really a conventional inverted story either as almost all of the action takes place prior to the murder taking place. There is no period of reflection, no telltale conscience or worrying about clues left at the scene. Instead this is a journal-style report of the development of the protagonist’s plans as they try to find a scheme that will work.
The first few chapters are the best in the whole book as we get to know that protagonist and see how his resentment towards his aunt has built and the manner of their interactions with each other. The incident that sparks it all is his Aunt insisting that Edward take a stroll into the village to pick up a parcel of the French novels he orders that she thoroughly disapproves of. He wishes to avoid the exercise but everything he thinks to try she has already prepared for. It is tremendously enjoyable opening to the novel and features some of the best comical writing I have ever encountered.
It is in the aftermath of that event that we see Edward come to the decision that his aunt must die and he begins to scheme ways to make that happen. There are still a number of very funny moments and sequences in these sections of the book as the battle of wits continues and the reader might be forgiven for wondering if the titular murder will ever take place. Don’t worry, it will and when we finally get to that moment the reader ought to be prepared to work out precisely how it will be managed based on the hints dropped throughout the rest of the novel.
Both Edward and his Aunt Mildred are glorious creations and come to vivid life on the page. Certainly their antagonistic relationship feels believable and like one that may have developed over a lifetime of growing up in close proximity to someone you don’t particularly like or respect.
Edward is idle, insolent and believes that he is entitled to live a life of leisure and comfort at his aunt’s expense. He begrudges having to live in the country where he lacks diversions, and lavishes what little attention he possesses upon his French novels, his Pekinese dog So-So and his fashionable roadster La Joyeuse. He is not unintelligent but does not apply himself to anything which will be one of the challenges he will struggle to overcome in organizing an effective murder plot.
Meanwhile his Aunt Mildred is domineering and wishes to mold her nephew into her image of a fit young man to be the future of their old family name. Even keeping in mind that this narrative is told from the perspective of a man who feels vindictively toward her, she is someone it would be hard to like and the reader may well question whether there might have been a better approach she might have taken in managing her wayward charge.
The secondary characters are much less vividly drawn and occupy only very limited roles in Edward’s narrative, reflecting his narrow view of events, though they do play significant roles in parts of the plot. Hull’s writing style is engaging and even though it becomes clear where things will be headed by the midpoint of the novel, I felt the novel lost little of its interest.
Unfortunately I think there is little more I can say about this novel without running the risk of spoiling the experience. I am extremely glad I read it and have already sought out some other books by Hull that I plan on reading over the next few months. What I can say is that this is an excellent, if unconventional entry in the British Library Crime Classics collection and well worth checking out if you like darkly humorous stories or the inverted mystery form. Highly recommended.
Vintage Mysteries Challenge: Crime involved fire/arson (How) – A bit of a cheat here but there is an incident of arson within the narrative.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
13 thoughts on “The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull”
I have a nice Pocket edition of this one and I’ve been looking forward to reading it for some time. I have a number of choices for my first GAD inverted mystery. Any thoughts on how to take the plunge?
That’s a great question. I think The Murder of My Aunt is a great read but one thing to be aware of is that it’s not exactly a ‘pure’ inverted mystery. The novel plays with the ideas and style of the form but is much more focused on developing the comedic elements of the narrative. I’d certainly recommend it if you like darkly comedic tales but just be aware it’s kind of atypical of inverted mysteries as a whole.
If you’re looking for something more traditional I’d suggest either Malice Aforethought or perhaps Crofts’ 12:30 From Croydon. Both are fairly easily available and would give you a truer sense of the form which The Murder of My Aunt plays off. I’m also a big fan of Henry Wade’s Heir Presumptive but again there’s a slight twist on the form there.
However you end up taking the plunge I hope you enjoy!
Great, I have all of the titles that you recommended. We’ll see what I pick…
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Let me know how your inverted adventures go!
I came here to “get the dope” on a novel of which the audio version I have just listened to (& heard!:) V good actors & actresses performed & I enjoyed the plot twists & the dark humour. It isn’t everyday one gets interested in people almost totally devoid of anything endearing. But there are irritating, especially as they are repeated, moments, such as the nephew’s narration of his attempts to train his dog So-So in a high pitched, nearly screeching manner. I wondered if this irritation feat is inherent to the novel itself or just a quirky audio narration.
Thanks for the intriguing review here which does not, alas, address my enquiry.
I came here to “get the dope” on a novel the audio version of which I have just listened to (& heard!:) V good actors & actresses performed & I enjoyed the plot twists & th dark humour. It isn’t everyday one gets interested in people almost totally devoid of anything endearing. But there are irritating, especially as they are repeated, moments, such as the nephew’s narration of his attempts to train his dog So-So in a high pitched, nearly screeching manner. I wondered if this irritation feat is inherent to the novel itself or just a quirky audio narration.
Thanks for the intriguing review here which does not, alas, address my enquiry.
My memory of reading this is that I was not particularly irritated by Edward but I understand that others do not feel the same. He does possess a rather petulant narrative voice that I imagine might grate if read aloud.
I presume you listened to the Gordon Griffin narration from Soundings. I typically enjoy his readings but he does have his own highly distinctive performing style, particularly for those passages in which a character gets agitated or works themselves up. It may be that his reading amplified those qualities, making them more noticeable.
I am glad that you enjoyed the plot though and the comedic elements of the novel. I have very fond memories of reading this and often reference the sequence with the car in the first or second chapter as one of the funniest passages I have ever read in a crime novel.
“The Murder of My Aunt is a story in the inverted style, told from the perspective of a young man who is plotting to kill the aunt who he must live with in order to receive an allowance that he regards as pitifully small.” A very nice introduction to an enjoyable and informative review. Thank you! Just one glitch. Writing “whom he must live with” would not have involved too far a stretch of the grammatical imagination at this level of analysis, additionally having contributed as an effective antidote to the slow but sure degradation of our beloved language, even in higher spheres such as this one. Thank you for hearing me out and giving it a good think.