Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


Book Author: Francis Iles

MALICE AFORETHOUGHT by Francis Iles: Golden Oldie

It’s been almost two years since I’ve written a post about a Golden Oldie.  That’s probably because there have been so many outstanding newly-published mysteries that I didn’t give ones I’d read years ago a second thought.  But I started feeling guilty about all the old “masterpieces” that may not be familiar to everyone, so here is a classic.

Malice Aforethought begins with a sentence that will surely grab the reader:  “It was not until several weeks after he had decided to murder his wife that Dr. Bickleigh took any active steps in the matter.”  Honestly, if that doesn’t make you want to continue reading, I don’t know what will.

The good doctor (emphasis mine) is a general practitioner in a small town in England.  I’ve noticed before that in English society in the early/middle part of the last century, a doctor was considered more of a working man or a skilled laborer than a professional.

Dr. Bickleigh’s marriage to Miss Julia Crewstaton, spinster, was a tepid one, lacking any warmth or passion from the start.  The Crewstatons were a family of position if no longer of means, due to the profligate spending habits of Sir Charles, the twelfth baronet.  Julia, at age thirty five, had given up hope that she would ever marry.

But marry she did, although to a country practitioner.  As she frequently reminded him, her grandmother “would have no more contemplated sitting down to a meal with her doctor than with her butler.”  Marrying him was “enough to make that grandmother turn in her grave.”  But, as the English say, “needs must,” and so Miss Crewstaton and Dr. Bickleigh were wed.

Dr. Bickleigh had carried on a number of flirtations during his marriage, some more serious than others, and his wife didn’t appear too bothered about it.  After his attempt to kiss one neighboring woman is rebuffed, and a steamy relationship he has with another is ending, more on his part than hers, he is ripe for a new affair.

Thus when he meets Madeleine Cranmere, newly arrived to town and obviously very wealthy, he decides she is his soul mate, the love of his life, and he cannot go on without her.  And thus the idea of murdering his wife becomes an obsession.

In a crime novel, as opposed to a detective story or mystery, there is, in fact, no mystery.  The reader knows from the beginning who the criminal is, and the story is told from the criminal’s viewpoint.  Malice Aforethought is a perfect example.

Francis Iles (1893-1971) is one of several pen names used by the English author Anthony Berkeley Cox.  He was a journalist and short story writer as well as a novelist, and along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and several others he was a founder of the Detection Club.  You can read more about Francis Iles at various internet sites.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.