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On Our Bookshelves:
Malice Aforethought

NOVEL: Malice Aforethought

AUTHOR: Francis Iles

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 1931

REVIEW:

Malice Aforethought is what is called an inverted detective story…not so much a “whodunit” as a “howcatchem.” We’re told from the very first sentence who the murderer and the victim are: “It was not until several weeks after he had decided to murder his wife that Dr. Bickleigh took any active steps in the matter.”

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There isn’t the satisfaction here of trying to figure out who committed the crime and how it was accomplished, as is usual in a mystery novel; instead we get the different but yet quite real pleasure of enjoying the transformation of a henpecked husband into a rather ruthless, vengeful, and amoral monster.

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What’s best about the book, however, is the social satire. It’s a wickedly funny send-up of various small town types, such as the clergyman “inclined to take himself more seriously than his duties.”

A few more examples of the author’s wit: the doctor and his wife had separate rooms, as “Julia was not disposed to be a dutiful wife, and Dr. Bickleigh did not particularly want her to be.” The reason that so many had been invited to the Bickleighs’ (for “one does not ask close on twenty people whom one does not like without a reason”): to introduce the very rich, attractive, and young Miss Cranmere “to such of her neighbors as she would be expected to know” for “an invitation to tennis in rural England does not imply any ability to play the game; the dividing line between those asked to tennis parties, and those not asked is a social, not an athletic one.” A description of Mr. Chatford, the solicitor: having “a highly professional manner even in private life, who spent his time trying to make himself and everybody else forget he had originally joined the firm, in which he was now the sole partner, as the office boy.”

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Pretty much everyone in the village is rather loathsome. Gossipy old spinsters, ridiculously stupid young beauties, snobs, fools, and hypocrites. It’s deliciously fun to read, though, and the mystery here is how far the doctor will go, and what he will and will not get away with.

We know that Julia is a goner (but she’s an awful shrew, so it’s hard to feel too terribly sorry for her) but we won’t know how it will all end for her husband until end it does, with a rather satisfying twist.

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Read this one when you’re out of sorts with the world and feeling misanthropic.

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RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 3 Whistles

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HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com

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Image Courtesy of Everett Collection