Herbert Cargate is a very unpleasant man. He is also soon to be poisoned on a train in the English countryside in Excellent Intentions.
Starting a murder case at the end, in the courtroom trying to prove a mysterious person’s guilt, is an unusual plot structure. Published in 1938, fifteen years before Agatha Christie’s more famous courtroom drama Witness for the Prosecution, Excellent Intentions also uses a courtroom setting to obscure the face of a murderer. While I enjoyed the change, it did make playing armchair detective much more difficult. The point of view makes quick jumps between people and time periods. The author uses excessive and mostly meaningless detail as a red herring. The effect is rather like jet lag. Eventually, you are resigned to it and are just reading to find out whodunnit.
Excellent Intentions is an interesting golden-age British curiosity. However, it doesn’t work very well as a mystery. Therefore, it is recommended only for readers interested in the historical underpinnings of mysteries. It would be an unusual structure for a modern mystery writer to use and improve upon. However, even with the unexpected twist at the end, I can’t recommend it to regular mystery readers. To those people, I recommend the much better example of the author’s work, Murder of my Aunt. Excellent Intentions is rated a scant 3 stars.
Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for an advance copy.