Cover Image: The Murder of My Aunt

The Murder of My Aunt

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

3.5 stars. Edward Powell is miffed. He's fed up of the tiny Welsh town of Lwll, on whose outskirts he lives ('How can any reasonably minded person live in a place whose name no Christian person can pronounce?') and he's bored of the tedious local company. Most of all, he's on the verge of being driven to distraction by his Aunt Mildred, with whom he lives, and who seems to exist for the sole purpose of spoiling his life. Now, if only he could find a suitably artistic way to get rid of her! In this playful instalment in the British Library Crime Classics series, the conventional structure of a murder mystery is turned on its head. As we watch the ghastly Edward bumble his way through a series of clumsy attempts at murder, the question is not 'whodunnit?' but 'will-he-do-it?' Blessed with one of the most ghastly protagonists I've ever encountered, and peppered with throwaway comments so pretentious they'd put Anthony Blanche to shame, Richard Hull's 1934 novel is also one of the most entertaining Golden Age crime novels I've read so far.

Of course, poor Edward is doomed to suffer. How can he expect to find anyone in the remote Welsh wilderness who can understand and sympathise with his aesthete's heart? Fortunately, he can sometimes escape to London or to stay with friends who understand his sensitive soul and share his sophisticated outlook. He has always clashed against his aunt, who has absolutely no appreciation for the finer things in life, and who has an absurd fixation on his need to walk (he is not overweight). But when their everyday squabbling culminates in some downright underhand behaviour from Aunt Mildred (hiding the spare petrol, with the intention that Edward will be forced to walk into Llwll rather than drive his cherished car La Joyeuse), Edward decides that things have gone too far. He can't live under this tyrannical regime any more. Aunt Mildred must die! But how? And so our aesthete finds himself turning would-be murderer, as he embarks on a mission that will require extreme intelligence and guile to pull off...

The joy of the whole book is that Edward is so unbearably awful. Although it does fall into the crime sub-genre, this is really an extended joke at the expense of a character who believes himself to be utterly exquisite, but whom everyone else loves to hate. Hull has created a character of almost unparalleled preciousness, who is driven by a veritable cocktail of jealousy, spite and entitlement. Aunt Mildred has such a hold over Edward because she controls the family's money in the aftermath of his parents' deaths; and she (very wisely) simply won't give him the allowance that he considers necessary to uphold a stylish life. Obviously, the idea of working is quite out of the question for Edward. He can't possibly consider wasting his talents on:

'something quite unsuited to the essential poetry of my nature, probably in Birmingham, which, with the possible exception of Wolverhampton, is, I understand, the very nastiest place in the world, sordid and commercial to an unparalleled degree.'

His research into potential murder methods might well be the hardest work that this spoiled young idiot has ever undertaken. And he is not only lazy, but vindictive. His efforts to bump off his aunt prove that, of course, but he also has a persistently pusillanimous streak in almost everything he does. On croquet, he petulantly demands: 'What are games for, except to release one's complexes by a little flavouring of spite?' And there is little in life that he truly enjoys, with the exception of dandyish clothes, his little Pekingese So-So, and his French books. Heavily implied to be pornographic, these packages have become notorious at the local post-office and Edward, already riled by the injustice of living out in the sticks, feels the need to justify his tastes to us:

'these things, little masterpieces though they are in their own way, are gossamer trifles that appeal not to the many-headed and, naturally neglected by the multitude, drift away down the breeze of time. I have never met a best-seller yet that I have managed to finish. It is not surprising. One's taste is, I hope, superior to the average.'

Yes, he is a magnificently awful creation. Couched in the form of his diary, the novel becomes a monologue, a one-man show, carrying us along with this deliciously delusional and self-centred narrator. Will he succeed in his nefarious schemes? I couldn't possibly say, of course. I suggest you find a cosy armchair, a large cup of tea, and settle down to follow Edward's endeavours for yourself. The results might surprise you.

The review will be published on my blog on 13 March 2020 at the following link:
Was this review helpful?
This is hilarious and well-written, and the annoying protagonist gets what he deserves at the end. I recommend this as a very entretaining and life-affirming quick read. I also offer this to my students as an excellent example of the beginning of 20th century English that is not too boring for them to slug through.
I uploaded review of the book on Goodreads.
Was this review helpful?
Funny and darkly entertaining while all the while exposing the narrator's gruesome and tiresome nature.  Loved the description of the Welsh countryside.
Was this review helpful?
This is one of the best of the classic crime fiction novels from the Golden Age that I’ve read. On the face of it has a straightforward plot as Edward Powell, the narrator for most of the book, plots to murder his Aunt Mildred. They live in a house called Brynmawr on the outskirts of the Welsh town of Llwll. Mildred is his guardian, his parents having died in mysterious circumstances when Edward was very young. He detests living in Lwll and he also detests his aunt. It’s a contest of wills as Mildred finds Edward a great trial, she sees all his faults – he is selfish, self-centred, vain and lazy and foppishly effeminate – and she constantly nags him to change his ways, or she will ‘have to take action’. Edward, though decides that he will take action, thinking his life would be so much better without Mildred and he sets out to find a way to arrange her death so that no suspicion will fall on him. He makes copious notes of various methods and the steps he plans to take and that’s more difficult than he expected as his attempts keep failing.

But it’s the writing that lifts this book from the ordinary to an original and funny murder mystery and, whilst not laugh-out-loud funny, I thought it was brilliant. It’s witty and ironic from the start as Edward pontificates on the pronunciation of the word ‘Lwll’.  Neither Edward nor Mildred come across as caricatures, but as real people, both of them with their own faults. Edward is just so insufferably awful that I felt on Mildred’s side in their battle of wits, even though she shows him up in front of the whole village – and after all she had brought him up.

Once I started to read The Murder of My Aunt I was captivated and I had to read it quickly, anxious to find out if Edward did manage to kill his aunt. It makes very entertaining reading and I loved the ending, which took me by surprise and I thought was so clever – definitely a 5* read for me!

Now I’m looking forward to reading more of  Richard Hull’s books and have Excellent Intentions lined up to read soon.

My thanks to the publishers, Poisoned Pen Press, for my review copy via NetGalley.
Was this review helpful?
Dark humor tale of a wastrel plotting to murder the aunt he is financially dependent upon. Set in rural Wales, Hull writes a tale with some interesting twists featuring a protagonist that one loves to loathe and the object of his venom is scarcely more likeable. Lots of fun.
Was this review helpful?
Meet Edward Powell, a tubby, effete, dandified self-styled aesthete. He bitterly resents being trapped in the provincial backwater of Llwll, Wales, in a outmoded house called Brynnmawr with his aunt. Aunt Mildred Powell, who has raised Edward from babyhood when his parents died in a car accident, keeps Edward on a tight budget and delights in thwarting Edward at every turn and even in the most trivial matters. Edward, who won’t get his inheritance until he’s older, dreams of being able to move to London and setting himself up as a writer and an über-stylish man about town. 

One day, after an insult too many, Edward decides that he will murder his aunt. (Hardly a spoiler, considering the title.) He begins to keep a hidden diary of his plans, although Edward bumbles about a bit in trying to find a method that will appear an accident. Will Edward achieve Aunt Mildred’s demise? And will he get away with it?

Author Richard Hull has sadly been all but forgotten. His debut novel proves truly funny as the un-self-aware Edward casts about for a way to murder Aunt Mildred while not attracting the notice of the authorities. I am so grateful to British Library for reissuing this gem.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received this book from NetGalley, British Library and Poisoned Pen Press in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
I’ve read quite a few of the British Library Crime Classics and enjoyed their beautiful covers, but The Murder of My Aunt is the first that has been darkly comic. Edward sees himself as fashionable and too good for the sleepy Welsh village of Llwll where he lives with his aunt. His aunt supports him but not well enough for him to live in London and indulge himself.

Edward is not a nice person, but he turns malicious after his aunt pulls a prank to get him to walk into the village instead of driving his car, La Joyeuse. He decides to murder her to get control of his life and her fortune.

Indeed, if we are to believe Edward’s version, his aunt is not much more likable than he is. But are we to believe him?

The novel is very entertaining until it bogs down a bit with a change of narrators. The Murder of My Aunt was considered a genre breaker in its time and was praised for its freshness and originality. Certainly, I found Edward’s machinations amusing, but the barbs directed at his effeminate nature are also mean-spirited.
Was this review helpful?
I have had this book pending for a while and I finally got around to it. I once again am amazed that I let a book this size ( at less than 200 pages) sit around for this long! I read it in one sitting this morning. The most important thing I need to point out, is the tone of the narration. If you have even the slightest sense of humour and like to read between the lines and actually see even the picture the protagonist refuses to narrate explicitly, this is just the book to read!

The story is quite simple, if not a little shocking. Edward hates his rural life, and blames his misery on his aunt and her actions. The entire book is of him plotting her demise in (supposedly) ingenious ways. There is so much sly humour in the pages that I actually thought once again (as I did with the last book I read of the author) that the author must have been chuckling to himself as he penned parts of it! The people are not role models by any stretch of the imagination. I did not necessarily like any of them, although I sympathized with a few of them (Not that there are many people in the story, the 'people' are but a skeleton crew of a handful of recurring faces). If you are looking for a different read, this is definitely it!
Was this review helpful?
Another good one in the british library crime classics series. 
Its a nice little story set around a family and people that are connected to it. 
It was entertaining if sadly nothing special overall.
Was this review helpful?
EXCERPT: Like all people who get their own way always, when she found herself thwarted, her rage was terrific. Curiously enough, she started on my last remark; my reference to So-so apparently stung her - conscience trouble I suppose. She thundered over this. How dared I remind her of the death of that lap-dog? (Lap-dog indeed! My poor So-so!) She would have thought I would have tried to have forgotten that by now. But then I was always rather like that dog myself, "a poor-spirited yapping little cur always prepared to bite the hand that feeds you", "a mean, greedy fat little slug thinking only of your own comfort and how much you can eat - ever since you were born".

"Well, you brought me up," I managed to interject. 

"Yes, but you don't often seem to remember the fact." Good heavens, as if I could ever forget it! I should like to give her my version of my childhood. But my aunt's voice went booming on, her nose, always red and uncared for, was by now shining like a beacon with her excitement, while her complexion had gone past the turkeycock stage and assumed the cold white of ungovernable fury. Indeed, she clearly was out of control. She went back to my schooldays. She cast in my teeth my early departure from that grim establishment, about which she was obviously cheerfully, and without question, ready to believe the worst; she abused my friends, my books, my tastes, my clothes, my morals (oh yes, we had all the Mary business over again with some new chapters founded on an alleged incident of the last few days); she slated me like a fishwife for being a lazy slacker, a ne'er-do-well, an idler, "a sponger on my bounty who hasn't even the decency to admit that he is sponging"; she descended to personalities even. I was fat, I was pimply, my hair was too long, my face was too puffy, and my clothes were those "of a namby-pamby little pansy boy. If that alone had been said, I should have sought revenge. 

ABOUT THIS BOOK: Edward Powell lives with his Aunt Mildred in the Welsh town of Llwll. 
His aunt thinks Llwll an idyllic place to live, but Edward loathes the countryside – and thinks the company even worse. In fact, Edward has decided to murder his aunt. 

A darkly humorous depiction of fraught family ties, The Murder of My Aunt was first published in 1934.

MY THOUGHTS: I didn't much enjoy the first three-quarters of this book. I didn't much like Edward, nor his Aunt Mildred. It was, up until this point, a long-winded and monotonous narrative by a disgruntled nephew who should be standing on his own two feet rather than relying on his aunt to provide for him. I dozed off while reading. I got up and went off to do other things. I debated not finishing. 

So why the 😄😄😄.5? Because the ending is worth reading the book for. It brought a sparkle to my eyes, and a smile to my face. 

It is interesting to see how our language has changed over the years since 1934. Not only in how we speak, but how we use the words, how the meanings have evolved in less than one hundred years. But it is also interesting that some things don't change, like the 'idlers' and 'slackers' who seem to believe that the world owes them a living. 

Overall, I am glad that I read this book. While it didn't set my world on fire, it amused me. 

THE AUTHOR: Richard Henry Sampson FCA (6 September 1896 – 1973), known by the pseudonym Richard Hull, was a British writer who became successful as a crime novelist with his first book in 1934. 

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Poisoned Pen Press via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions. 

Please refer to my profile page or the about page on for an explanation of my rating system. This review and others are also published on my blog
Was this review helpful?
The book is advertised as a crime novel that’s not (quite) like the other crime novels and at first, it is very unlike others. The book starts with the trial and we learn a few things about the judge, the prosecutor and the lawyer. But nothing about the person who’s on trial. They’re only referred to as ‘the accused’ or ‘the defendant’. Then the trial opens, and the first witness gets called: the man who saw the victim taking some snuff and then collapsing. First, he is questioned by a prosecutor who likes long words and run-on sentences, then by the defence who desperately tries to confuse the witness enough to make him doubt his memory – because if the things didn’t happen the way he described it would be advantageous for the defendant.
But then the novel takes a turn. The rest of the investigation isn’t told through the trial. The story jumps back, and we see the investigation unfold in a quite traditional manner: The inspector questions the suspects and reconstructs they day of the murder to figure out when the poison could have been put in the snuff-box. This investigation takes up most of the book and doesn’t read much different than any other ‘typical’ crime novel. The only difference is that there’s no big reveal of the culprit in the library. Instead, it jumps back to the trial and that’s where we learn who was the only person who could have poisoned the snuff and how the inspector figured it out.

It’s not that I’m complaining about that. With the prosecutor and his love for wordiness (I got traumatic flashbacks to reading The Moonstone from just the few pages) the whole story would have been near-unreadable if it was all told via the trial. But the blurb (and Martin Edward’s introduction) advertised quite aggressively how different the story is told in this book when, in reality, it is told quite normally and mostly just plays around with the chronology.

Will I read more by the author? Definitely. The story itself has a fair share of wit and humour. I wouldn’t go so far as saying that it’s a parody, but it doesn’t take itself completely seriously. There’s the victim who was horrible and hated everyone so much that he even wanted his money to go to a place where it did ‘the least amount of good’ and therefore decides to leave it to the state. The remaining characters aren’t quite as exaggerated but there’s still a bumbling vicar, a hyper-competent assistant, an ominous butler and a stupid gardener.
Was this review helpful?
I cannot get enough of this crime series. In a world where there are a plethora of standard thrillers I love returning to older authors. I love this story, completely gripping and wonderfully written.
Was this review helpful?
The Murder of My Aunt might make a very good movie. It is in many ways a battle of wits and wills between Edward and his Aunt Mildred. It all begins when the mailman could not bring up his package of books he had ordered because the label was damaged. The aunt, feeling bad for the frequent heavy bundles the mailman is forced to lug up, insists that Edward must walk down to the village to get them. Edward resolves to drive, but she forbids it. She goes to the ridiculous effort of emptying her own car’s gas tank onto the ground to ensure he walks.  Edward equally absurdly captures just enough of the leaking petrol to get his car down part of the way to the village when he can buy some petrol and pick up the packages. All in all, it was far more work than if he had just walked down, but he insisted on at least appearing to drive. Aunt Mildred made the point of revealing she and the villages were not fooled and laughed while watching him struggle.

Now on the surface, this is a sensible older woman getting her own back on a ridiculous, bad-tempered, nephew who is living off her generosity. Well, not so much. It turns out long ago she inherited the obligation to provide for him along with all the family money, cutting him out even though he was only a child. We also learn that she spent her lifetime trying to break him of what she called willfulness and his effeminate manner that so offended her. She never let him win and wonders why he does not try? It seems in many ways, his entire life was a failed gay conversion program.

I can see how The Murder of My Aunt appeals to some people. There’s something fun at seeing someone who is a snob and think themselves so superior acting a fool. Edward is an unlikable jerk who thinks he is smarter than anyone else. However, I think his Aunt Mildred created him. She raised him since the death of his parents. In all that time, did she hug him or comfort him? I don’t know but I don’t think so. She was determined that never once in his life would he succeed in asserting his own agency. That he still had any will of his own, however twisted is a testament to a strength and sense of self that could have made a marvelous person if he had been raised by an aunt who wanted to love him, not break him.

This is a reprint of an old British crime classic from 1934. Sometimes the mores of old classics are difficult. People were openly homophobic and mocking and condemning a man for being effeminate was perfectly acceptable. To modern eyes, it reads poorly. Much is made of his French books that his aunt calls pornography and so on. Those values are stale and unwelcome.

I received an e-galley of The Murder of My Aunt from the publisher through NetGalley.

The Murder of My Aunt at Poisoned Pen Press
Richard Hull at Wikipedia
Was this review helpful?
When it was first published "The Murder of My Aunt" was something new, very different from other mysteries of its time. Reading it today does not have the same impact, in part because it has been widely imitated in the intervening years. This imitation should be seen as a tribute to it's worth. 

It was originally published in 1934 by Faber and Faber.
Was this review helpful?
Fans of British mysteries will be grateful for the re-issue of Richard Hull's classic from the 1930's.  Presented as both a psychological drama and a comedy, this novel has the duality of being both a humorous diary of an ungrateful young "rotter" living with his aunt---and, a more complex personality study of two incompatible people living together.

I love British humor, but the psychological tension of the relationships in this book prohibited me from appreciating the (supposed( light-hearted approach to homicide. I was uncomfortable reading the book--partly because of my distaste for the two principal characters--but, I just didn't like where it was heading.  But, Hull was very successful in creating that tension and I'd easily recommend this book for any readers who seriously follow the genre. It is a definite period piece, but it is unique in its style and its conclusion.  I would love to have the opportunity to discuss this book with a group of classic mystery aficionados --- it's lack of subtlety is part of its uniqueness and I know it would stimulate a fascinating discussion.

Thank you, NetGalley for providing me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
Was this review helpful?
I have been thinking a lot lately about the role that characterization plays in mystery fiction past and present. It's an intriguing exploration, because one could argue that mystery stories (or any literary genre defined by a particular structure) only need character types to work, and not necessarily characters with sincere or striking traits or personalities. To this end, one has a detective, a victim, assorted suspects, and perhaps a Watson to act as proxy for the reader. With people in place, the author can then manipulate the characters like chess pieces and effectively play out the game. And just as chess pieces are familiar in role but nondescript in detail – we don't know more about our bishops, knights, or rooks beyond their functional maneuverability – a mystery writer can present game after game using the same characters making the same familiar moves on the board.

Of course, any type of fiction is enhanced when a writer manages to deliver engaging characters caught up in a compelling plot, with an original tone supporting both story and theme. (Easier said than done.) This explains why I prefer imaginative writers who experiment and take risks – and occasionally fail – to those who work from a tried-and-tested template. Personally, I'm far less interested in the puzzle than in how the mystery format can be used to say something about the characters and, by extension, about humanity. It's why I'm lukewarm on clever puzzle constructors like Ellery Queen and John Dickson Carr, and why my favorite Agatha Christie books are not Poirot baffle-fests but instead And Then There Were None and The Mirror Crack'd, two titles where the psychology of the killer is both memorable and carries a note of human tragedy.

It is also why I read and reread the books of outside-yet-within-the-genre writers Gladys Mitchell and Richard Hull.

The Murder of My Aunt is Hull's first mystery novel, and the one he was compelled to write after working for years as a chartered accountant. It is one of those début books where the exuberance of the author alive to the possibilities of plot and prose and language is evident on every page. Hull chooses as his narrator a conceited, comically misanthropic young man named Edward Powell, who is unhappy with his stifled life in the small Welsh village of Llwll (pronounced, if Edward is to be believed, as "filth") in general and with his disapproving, domineering aunt in particular. As we learn of Edward's opinions and grievances through his confidences in detailed diary entries, we also learn much about his character. This is one of the book's most enjoyable gambits: Hull creates a narrator who is both sympathetic (perhaps pitiable is more accurate) and shallow. One can understand the circumstances of his frustration, but he's also greatly at fault due to his vanity and laziness, as he has no interest in pursuing an independent life and means of income. He is lazy, that is, until he decides that the murder of his aunt would provide freedom and a useful inheritance to boot.

Returning to those elements of strong fiction, Richard Hull incorporates all three with purpose, wit, and a great deal of ironic humor. The plot can hardly be bettered: one person wants to kill another, but the victim refuses to cooperate. In fact, as we only know what Edward reports, we get the feeling that Aunt Mildred might know more about the situation than our diarist thinks, and that creates an excellent mounting tension which connects directly to two age-old dramatic questions: What will happen next? and Who's going to win? Making both Edward Powell and his aunt well-delineated adversaries through personality and motivation, Hull offers up characterization that is as sharp and specific as anything he would later deliver. Further, the book's witty comic tone (for those who appreciate it; not all mystery readers do) is a terrific success. Edward's observations are amusing throughout, and the recounting of an incident where he tries to purchase oxalic acid and instead winds up buying a Christmas card in September is laugh-out-loud funny.

There is a neat concluding twist that I will leave alone, but it is memorable enough for me to recall from my initial reading of Aunt some decades ago. It was also this book that made me vow to find and read each of the author's fourteen other crime stories, and slowly but surely I am doing just that.

You can check out Kate's great review of The Murder of My Aunt at her crossexaminingcrime site. The book is getting a welcome reprint release from the British Library Crime Classics series and Poisoned Pen Press, presented with a great introduction by scholar and author Martin Edwards. I received an advance eBook copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
I love to listen to P.J. O'Rourke but I didn't like reading his writing nearly as much, although he makes a lot of sense and the book is amusing. However, I didn't finish it.

I received this free ebook from Net Galley in return for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
*I would like to thank Poisoned Pen Press and Netgalley for providing me with ARC in exchange for my honest review.*
This classic book did keep me interested from the first page. When I requested the book, I more or less knew what to expect as the author's name was not unfamiliar to me although I had never read anything by him. Now, this novel,written in the early 1930s, reads very well in the 21st century. Edward Powell, living and dependent financially for some family reasons on his aunt, makes a decision to get rid of her as this is the only way to have money and leave Wales of which he is tired. Both Edward and Aunt Mildred do their best to make life miserable for each other and they wage a silent war but at the end there is only one winner. I found this book truly enjoyable.
Was this review helpful?
The Murder of My Aunt was originally published in 1934 and is an outstanding example of why the Golden Age of Mystery was so golden.  The novel is an “inverted” mystery; Edward lets the reader know very early on that he plans to rid himself of his irritating aunt and the plot follows his various attempts to murder her.  Edward is about as useless as a human can be.  He has never worked and his sole interests, besides deriding the Welsh village where he is forced to live with his aunt, is maintaining a rather eclectic wardrobe, eating well, driving his sports car too fast,  pampering his Pekinese,  and collecting “interesting” French novels.  He blames his boring life on his aunt who holds the purse strings.  She gives him a decent allowance and he could move away.  He, however, aspires to a lofty lifestyle, possibly with the avant-garde crowd in Paris.  Since the possibility of supplementing his income by getting a job is beneath him, his only alternative is to bump off  his obnoxious aunt and live on a considerable inheritance.

Edward keeps a detailed diary of his various plans to accomplish the deed.  Since he is not the brightest light bulb, his attempts have a way of going wrong.  But he is nothing if not persistent and carries on with one hilarious scheme after another.  He evens involves his little dog.  

This is a very, very funny mystery!  The reader does feel some sympathy for Edward as he bumbles along.  His aunt is not the kindest person and does have a tendency to treat him like a rather irritating little boy.  In fairness, she has to put up with his snobbery, his rudeness and his habitual habit of being late to meals.  It is one of her rather cruel elaborate put-down that triggers his murderous plans.

And an added fillip is that the title hangs on a wicked point of grammar!
Was this review helpful?
This book is an interesting experiment. The initial tone is lightly humorous as we see through the protagonist's self-deception and bumbling attempts to improve his situation. However as the novel continues the character becomes deeper and more sympathetic. 

It presages psychological thrillers from the 1950s, it might have been titled "An Untalented Mr. Ripley." However Richard Hull did not approach Patricia Highsmith in writing ability, and the book doesn't hang together. 

Judged as a humorous mystery, it relies too much on one joke. It does not build to an hilarious climax, the characters become too real to laugh at. Judged as a psychological thriller, it does not maintain tension, and the characters are not real enough.

The book is certainly readable, and serious mystery fiction fans will appreciate it as an aytpical popular success in the 1930s that introduced elements that would be more important after WWII. But it's not funny enough nor thrilling enough to succeed in either genre.
Was this review helpful?