Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Malice Aforethought

Rate this book
On a balmy summer's day in 1930 the great and the good of the county are out in force for the annual, much-anticipated tennis party at the Bickleighs, although not everyone has much enthusiasm for the game. The tennis party exists for other reasons - and charmingly mannered infidelity is now the most popular pastime in the small but exclusive Devonshire hamlet of Wyvern's Cross. Which is why, in his own garden, the host, Dr Edmund Bickleigh, is desperately fighting to conceal the two things on his mind: a mounting passion for Gwynfryd Rattery - and the certain conviction that he is going to kill his wife ...

310 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1931

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Francis Iles

12 books23 followers
Francis Iles is a pseudonym of Anthony Berkeley Cox who also wrote under the names A.B. Cox, Anthony Berkeley and A. Monmouth Platts.

Cox was born in Watford and was educated at Sherborne School and University College London.

He served in the Army in World War I and thereafter worked as a journalist, contributing a series of humourous sketches to the magazine 'Punch'. These were later published collectively (1925) under the Anthony Berkeley pseudonym as 'Jugged Journalism' and the book was followed by a series of minor comic novels such as 'Brenda Entertains' (1925), 'The Family Witch' (1925) and 'The Professor on Paws' (1926).

It was also in 1925 when he published, anonymously to begin with, his first detective novel, 'The Layton Court Mystery', which was apparently written for the amusement of himself and his father, who was a big fan of the mystery genre. Later editions of the book had the author as Anthony Berkeley.

He discovered that the financial rewards were far better for detective fiction so he concentrated his efforts on that genre for the following 14 years, using mainly the Anthony Berkeley pseudonym but also writing four novels and three collections of short stories as Francis Isles and one novel as A Monmouth Platts.

In 1928 he founded the famous Detection Club in London and became its first honorary secretary.

In the mid-1930s he began reviewing novels, both mystery and non-mystery, for 'The Daily Telegraph' under the Francis Isles pseudonym, which he had first used for 'Malice Aforethought' in 1931.

In 1939 he gave up writing detective fiction for no apparent reason although it has been suggested that he came into a large inheritance at the time or that his alleged remark, 'When I find something that pays better than detective stories I shall write that' had some relevance. However, he produced nothing significant after he finished writing with 'Death in the House' (Berkeley) and 'As for the Woman' (Isles) in 1939.

He did, however, continue to review books for such as 'John O'London's Weekly', 'The Sunday Times', 'The Daily Telegraph' and, from the mid-1950s to 1970, 'The Guardian'. In addition he produced 'O England!', a study of social conditions and politics in 1934.

He and his wife lived in an old house in St John's Wood, London, and he had an office in The Strand where he was listed as one of the two directors of A B Cox Ltd, a company whose business was unspecified!

Alfred Hitchcock adapted the Francis Isles' title 'Before the Fact' for his film 'Suspicion' in 1941 and in the same year Cox supplied a script for another film 'Flight from Destiny', which was produced by Warner Brothers.

His most enduring character is Roger Sheringham who featured in 10 Anthony Berkeley novels and two posthumous collections of short stories.

He died on 9 March 1971.

Gerry Wolstenholme
January 2012

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
493 (30%)
4 stars
633 (39%)
3 stars
367 (22%)
2 stars
81 (5%)
1 star
25 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 29 of 204 reviews
Profile Image for Barbara K..
378 reviews67 followers
November 17, 2020
This was one of the Eight Perfect Murders that I had not read at the time I read Swenson's book, and so when it came up as a group read I was eager to join in. So glad I did!

If I had a list of favorite Golden Age mysteries this would definitely be on it. The writing is very clever and polished, and seems to be from a later period - maybe the 40's or 50's. Much of the behavior would be scandalous by the standards of St. Mary Mead, although the insights into human nature are on a par with Christie's.

The protagonist, Bickleigh, is reprehensible, but so many of the other characters are so loathsome that we can almost sympathize with his desire to strike back. Almost - and not in quite the same way. As the book unfolds, so does Bickleigh's character. Is he unraveling, or is his true self just becoming more intense?

The courtroom scenes near the end, presented as is the entire book, from Bickleigh's perspective, are especially entertaining. Actually, the whole book is entertaining; I found myself grinning through most of it.

All in all, a solid 5 stars in the Golden Age category. Not a sub-genre where I spend a lot of time these days, but this one is definitely a winner.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,988 reviews15 followers
March 19, 2018


Description: Emilia Fox, Ben Caplan and Patricia Hodge star in a dramatisation of the novel that Alfred Hitchcock based his film, 'Suspicion' on.

Set in the early 1930s, Emilia Fox plays the part of Lina - a girl in her late twenties, from a wealthy family. In danger of becoming a spinster, life changes for the better when Lina meets Johnnie Aysgarth, a charming stranger who proposes marriage. Johnnie saves Lina from a boring life with her parents and whisks her off on an extravagant honeymoon. But on their return Lina begins to discover that Johnnie is not all he seems. His gambling threatens to ruin them but is her growing suspicion that he is also a murderer founded on reality or her imagination?
  Natural Born Murderees
Lina Emilia Fox
Johnnie Ben Caplan
Miss Sedbusk Patricia Hodge
Capt Melbeck Sam Dale
Thwaite David Timson
Ethel Hannah Wood
Dr Fielding Rick Warden
Profile Image for Susan.
2,603 reviews599 followers
July 19, 2022
Francis Iles was a pseudonym used by Anthony Berkeley Cox and this crime novel, written in 1931, is really something new. It was not a typical Golden Age mystery, but rather it was something very new, in which we know who the murderer is. Dr Edmund Bickleigh is a country doctor, hen-picked by his wife, Julia, who reminds him constantly that she has married beneath her. Although he seems a bit pathetic, he has a love for the ladies and, rather like Romeo, who quickly forgets Rosline, when Juliet appears, our doctor moves from infatuation with Gwynyfryth, then Ivy, then Madeleine.

When his wife, Juliet, refuses him a divorce, he decides to kill her and then things escalates as his self-confidence makes him rather indiscreet. This is a really interesting and well-written novel, which feels incredibly modern. I loved the gossiping ladies of the village, as they voice what they know to be fact and it reminded me of Miss Marple. People could get away with murder, perhaps in terms of prosecution, but locals always know what is going on. Whether Dr Bickleigh does, or not, you will have to read for youself in order to find out.
Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,201 reviews260 followers
July 17, 2020
Malice Aforethought (1931) by Francis Iles (a pseudonym for Anthony Berkeley Cox) was a top tip from GoodReads friend Mark - a reader with impeccable taste.

Despite featuring murder, Malice Aforethought is much more of a character study than a mystery. It is surprisingly suspenseful too and was a sensation when it was published. It's not a whodunnit but a black comedy. The murderer is revealed on the first page and so the reader is privvy to every calculated thought as the crimes are conceived and executed. It is slightly reminiscent of Patrick Hamilton and also absolutely nails the claustraphobia of village life in the oppressive world of genteel 1930's England.

Dr Bickleigh is an intriguing protagonist. Despite being unpleasant and ruthless he also elicits a degree of sympathy. Even more intriguing are the women in Bickleigh's life who are a motley crew and each one adds to making Malice Aforethought a satisfying and enjoyable read.


The blurb...

Malice Aforethought (1931) is a crime novel written by Anthony Berkeley Cox, using the pen name Francis Iles. It is an early and prominent example of the "inverted detective story", claimed to have been invented by R. Austin Freeman some years earlier. The murderer's identity is revealed in the first line of the novel, which gives the reader insight into the workings of his mind as his plans progress. It also contains elements of black comedy, and of serious treatment of underlying tensions in a superficially respectable community. It is loosely based on the real-life case of Herbert Armstrong, with elements of Doctor Crippen.

At the time of writing Malice Aforethought is a bargain £1.99 for Kindle in the UK

Who is Francis Iles?...

Anthony Berkeley Cox was born in 1893 in Watford, and educated at Sherborne School and University College, Oxford. After serving in the British Army in the First World War, he worked as a journalist for many years, contributing to such magazines as Punch and The Humorist.

His first novel, The Layton Court Mystery, was published anonymously in 1925. It introduced Roger Sheringham, the amateur detective who features in many of the author's novels including the classic Poisoned Chocolates Case. In 1930, Berkeley founded the Detection Club in London along with Agatha Christie, Freeman Wills Crofts and other established mystery writers.

His 1932 novel (as "Francis Iles"), Before the Fact was adapted into the 1941 classic film Suspicion, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine. Trial and Error was turned into the unusual 1941 film Flight From Destiny starring Thomas Mitchell.

In 1938, he took up book reviewing for John O'London's Weekly and the Daily Telegraph, writing under his pen name Francis Iles. He also wrote for the Sunday Times in the 1940s and for the Manchester Guardian, later The Guardian, from the mid-1950s until 1970. A key figure in the development of crime fiction, he died in 1971 in St John's Wood, London.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,988 reviews15 followers
February 19, 2016


Description: On a balmy summer's day in 1930 the great and the good of the county are out in force for the annual, much-anticipated tennis party at the Bickleighs, although not everyone has much enthusiasm for the game. The tennis party exists for other reasons - and charmingly mannered infidelity is now the most popular pastime in the small but exclusive Devonshire hamlet of Wyvern's Cross. Which is why, in his own garden, the host, Dr Edmund Bickleigh, is desperately fighting to conceal the two things on his mind: a mounting passion for Gwynfryd Rattery - and the certain conviction that he is going to kill his wife ...

Hywel Bennett as Dr. Edmund Bickleigh

Think twice before accepting high-tea from a genial Devon country doctor.
Profile Image for Laura.
6,850 reviews554 followers
March 19, 2018
From BBC Radio 4 - Saturday Drama:
Emilia Fox, Ben Caplan and Patricia Hodge star in a dramatisation of the novel that Alfred Hitchcock based his film, 'Suspicion' on.

Set in the early 1930s, Emilia Fox plays the part of Lina - a girl in her late twenties, from a wealthy family. In danger of becoming a spinster, life changes for the better when Lina meets Johnnie Aysgarth, a charming stranger who proposes marriage. Johnnie saves Lina from a boring life with her parents and whisks her off on an extravagant honeymoon. But on their return Lina begins to discover that Johnnie is not all he seems. His gambling threatens to ruin them but is her growing suspicion that he is also a murderer founded on reality or her imagination?

Dramatised for radio by RONALD FRAME

Producer/Director: David Ian Neville.

Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,393 reviews2,387 followers
August 5, 2022
Francis Iles is a pen name for Anthony Berkeley, one of the most interesting of the GA crime writers for me as he doesn't seem to fall into repeating certain plot tropes and also writes with great wit and a kind of amusing maliciousness.

In this book, he does the inverted plot - where we know who the murderer is, see mainly through their PoV, and the tension comes from watching them carry through their dastardly plans and then waiting to see whether they get caught or not.

Within this framework, Iles/Berkeley offers up bags of craziness with a side-helping of unusual raciness, however tame by our standards. With twists, sudden revelations, some nail-biting, and open gaps for us to ponder, this is huge fun.
293 reviews8 followers
August 20, 2010
Some would argue that Malice Aforethought is a murder mystery only in the sense that a murder is committed and, for the greater part of the book, there is a mystery as to whether the murderer will be arrested and found guilty. That is indeed true. It is also true that one of the mysteries explored in the book is why seemingly ordinary people commit murder. Yet another mystery explored is the way in which readers, when invited into the point of view of a particular character, often find themselves drawn into the perspective of that character.

Malice Aforethought lays out the difficulties of navigating the complex social hierarchy of England between the wars and it is surprising frank discussion of the relationships between men and woman at that time. For the reader who only knows England of that time from reading “cozies” the frank admission that Ivy was, more than once, Dr. Bickleigh’s mistress will come as a shock. Even in the supposedly more sophisticated contemporary detective stories of Ellery Queen and Philo Vance such behaviour is only alluded to when the woman is of “that type.” What the reader realizes is that while the trappings of life have changed much the reality those trappings disguises has changed little.

As was true in the earlier The Murder of Roger Ackroyd we experience the people and events in the book through the eyes and mind of the murderer although in Malice the reader does not read his actual words that same reader is told what he is thinking and feeling. And in neither book is the narration unreliable. In Roger Ackroyd the murderer doesn’t write that he didn’t kill Ackroyd he simply doesn’t tell the reader some key details such as ‘then I killed him.’ However because Roger Ackroyd really is a mystery, in the sense that the reader is not told that the narrator is the murderer until close to the end of the book, there is little exploration of what drove him to that action. In Malice Aforethought Iles allows us to gradually realize that while the reader is reliably told what Bickleigh is thinking and feeling Bickleigh himself has a undependable understanding of other people and himself. As the reader comes to recognize that Bickleigh’s own perceptions are coloured by his psychological needs the deeper mystery becomes how mistaken is Bickleigh in the natures and motivations of those around him.

While Malice Aforethought is set in a time that feels foreign to most modern readers Iles’ examination of what makes the person next door into a murderer is surprisingly relevant and wonderfully refreshing. This is particularly true in his choice to make Bickleigh’s motivations down to earth and hard to distance oneself from. Most of us have not had traumatic childhoods. Most of us have not had horrible tragedies take place in our life. Most of us are, however, ordinary people faced with the day in and day out pick pricks of living with bad choices and suffering from the routine humiliations of life. And so the final mystery is -- is the only thing that keeps each of us from walking down the same path as Dr. Bickleigh happenstance and lack of opportunity?
Profile Image for Gerry.
Author 43 books91 followers
November 15, 2021
No surprise to see this novel described as 'The famous thriller of the Thirties' because it is certainly a spine-tingler and must have made quite an impression when it was first published.

Hen-pecked husband Dr Edmund Bickleigh gradually becomes less and less enchanted with his dominant wife, at the same time courting various ladies while on his rounds as a GP.

The tension builds nicely and it is no surprise when the good doctor decides that he must get rid of his wife. He plans it well, so well that when she does pass away, her death is treated as an accident. Dr Bickleigh was happy and continued his philandering life. It is this latter that eventually leads him into trouble because the gossips suggest that all was not well with his wife's death.

He rides the storm but decides to take revenge on some of those whose wagging tongues caused further police investigation into his wife's death, some 12 months after the event. His revenge causes him more concern, for the police get involved in an investigation into illnesses contracted by those who he had entertained.

In addition the investigation into his wife's death continues and he is eventually tried for his alleged crime. A tense trial follows, the jury goes out and the verdict is ... a stunning ending to a stunning novel.
Profile Image for WJEP.
233 reviews14 followers
November 28, 2021
In henpecked-husband stories, I have never before taken the side of the hen. But Mrs. Bickleigh's bad manners are applaudable in a village stuffed with phony gentility, wicked gossip, throat clearing, lip twisting, and eyebrow lifting. Her little worm of a husband, Dr. Bickleigh, turns out to be quite a snake, I dare say.

Dr. Bickleigh had studied Thomas De Quincey’s On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts. Throughout the murder investigation, he alternates, rather amusingly, between unshakable confidence
"Good God, what was Scotland Yard coming to? As a taxpayer, Dr. Bickleigh felt quite indignant."
and sudden, nauseating panic
"He sat up in the bed, a stiff, erect little figure in pink cotton pyjamas, his hair half on end from sleep, and rocked backwards and forwards, his knuckles to his mouth."
Despite the murderer and victim being revealed in the first sentence, I was repeatedly caught off-guard, all the way through the story, including the astonishing epilogue.
Profile Image for Tania.
725 reviews62 followers
July 26, 2022
I was expecting a mystery but on reading the first page, I shelved it under Crime because we know from the first chapter who dunnit. The story is told through Dr Bickleigh's point of view, and in the first paragraph we are told he plans to murder his wife. From there we go back to the why, and then forward to the how.

Dr Bickleigh is a thoroughly unpleasant character, (well, he is a murderer), and his victims don't come across as much better. I found this one a darkly funny and very compelling read, having stayed up into the wee small hours to finish it.
Profile Image for David.
590 reviews124 followers
January 1, 2022
I read this for a ReadHarder prompt for a book from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. This turned out not to be one of the qualifying novels that gilded the genre. Despite a nifty bit of boomerang justice in the closing pages, this was otherwise occasionally insipid, always ridiculous.
Profile Image for Sid Nuncius.
1,128 reviews91 followers
August 9, 2022
I enjoyed the beginning and end of Malice Aforethought, but it flagged pretty badly for me in the middle.

This isn’t a conventional murder mystery – we know from the outset who the murderer is – but more of a character study of the murderer. He is Dr. Bickleigh, a GP in a West Country village, who pursues local women in the belief that he is genuinely in love with each...until the next comes along. His stern and overbearing wife becomes an insurmountable obstacle to his supposed happiness and his homicidal plans begin to take shape.

It’s an excellent beginning; Francis Iles (a pseudonym for Anthony Berkeley) writes with real wit and his intimate portrayal of Bickleigh’s internal thoughts and state of mind is shrewd and very well done. He also paints waspish portraits of the village’s other residents, which works well for a while, but seemed a good deal less original to me, in that it’s been done by a good many other writers of that age and since. The parade of sexist – even misogynistic – stereotypes which form his female characters became rather too much for me, as each one is portrayed as having at least one clichéd supposed defect of her gender to make her contemptible in some way: gossipy, bitchy, overbearing, timid, clingy, stand-offish, unintelligent snobbish...and so on. Particularly coupled with a long, slow examination of Bickleigh’s thought processes, I struggled with the middle part of the book.

The later part did pick up very well, though, with a police investigation and some very well done courtroom scenes. I didn’t enjoy this as much as others have done, but it does have its merits and may well be worth a try.
Profile Image for John.
1,109 reviews79 followers
September 29, 2021
What s brilliant murder story. Its an inverted detective story where the reader knows who is the murderer. Dr Bickleigh or Teddy has a massive inferiority complex and has an affair with Madeline a wealthy young woman who could be a contestant on Love Island. She is an egoist and delusional. Unhappily for Teddy he initially thinks she is the bees knees. His wife Julia sees through her lies and tells him. But Teddy is a little insane and delusional. He then murders his wife. However, Madeline rejects him making him very angry.

He poisons Chatford , Denny now Madeleines husband and her. They survive but later Denny died of typhoid. The police arrest him for his wife’s murder but he is found not guilty. Ironically he is then arrested for Denny’s murder. Which he is completely innocent. Did Madeline set him up?

The story from 1931 holds up well. There is also plenty of humor. Very well plotted and a laugh out loud ending n
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Annie.
2,037 reviews96 followers
February 3, 2020
One of my favorite classic movies is Kind Hearts & Coronets (1949), which is still one of the most blackly funny movies I’ve ever seen. I immediately thought of this movie as I read Malice Aforethought, by Francis Iles (Anthony Berkeley Cox), originally published in 1931. I also thought of Knives Out (2019), which I recently saw and loved so much I can’t wait until it goes on sale so that I can watch it on a loop. Without giving too much away, all of these stories share a trope that I can’t get enough of: a murderer who is so clever they outsmart themselves. It also helps that these stories are packed full of satirical commentary on characters who think breeding can take the place of a good personality, money-grubbers, curtain-twitchers, and other types that need to be taken down a peg or two. Weirdly enough, the reading list in Eight Perfect Murders got me to pick up Malice Aforethought. I daresay sharing his favorite books with other readers was Peter Swanson’s ulterior motive...

Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type.
Profile Image for Squeak2017.
159 reviews
June 12, 2020
This novel is based on a real life crime by Herbert Armstrong, the so-called Hay poisoner. He was a solicitor who murdered his wife and remained unsuspected until he decided that murder was so easy that he would rid himself of a tiresome professional rival. This was a coincidence too far, as it also proved for Dr. Bickleigh.

Francis Iles was the pen name of Anthony Berkeley Cox, a writer of Golden Age detective fiction with a more intelligent twist than merely revealing the murderer's identity. Cox was interested in the psychology of the crime, what lead to it, how the perpetrator behaved afterwards, what its effect was on all parties, even whether it was recognised as a crime at all.

The story is a famous early example of an inverted mystery where the suspense lay in how the crime was performed and whether it would be detected rather than in who performed the deed. Dr. Bickleigh is described as a worm, a short, physically puny and insignificant little man who is humiliated socially by his domineering wife and needs grubby little liaisons with young women to bolster his male ego. When he feels he has at last found the love of his life, his sensible if brusque wife is quick to see through the scheming little madam and her charades, so the doctor decides to embark on his life of crime.

It is fascinating to watch Bickleigh sink further and further into his delusions of immunity even as he makes mistake after mistake, playing with fire as he is questioned by the police and arousing further suspicions among his neighbours and fellow professionals by his questionable behaviour. He is in many ways a comic character, only rising in his own self-esteem when he has rid himself of his socially superior wife. His inferiority complex contributes a great deal to his need for subterfuge as he is unable to assert himself in normal society. His tawdry affairs make him feel more in control, though he regularly betrays his contempt for women when calling them gossips, hags, etc. until his childish resentments are forgotten when he decides a character may be useful to him after all, or he is baulked by them again and his rage flares anew usually resulting in a decision to murder them at the next opportunity.

For Bickleigh honestly believes he has the power of meting out death with impunity and cannot see himself as others see him. He is baffled that the police are interested in his exploits and does not even stop his plots until suspicion has safely died down as anyone with a healthy regard for personal safety might do.

The final courtroom scenes show again his arrogance, his disdain for women, his disconnect from the normality of others. The superb irony of his fate is both perfectly satisfying and perfectly judged, almost comic in a Pooterish way.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys detective fiction - it's a five star read.
Profile Image for Bill.
1,593 reviews75 followers
October 31, 2021
I quite enjoyed this mystery. It develops very nicely, with Dr Bickleigh, unhappily married, a man who falls in love with and has romantic liaisons with other women. His wife is sharp, bossy, but tolerates these affairs until one particular. Dr Bickleigh now has to decide to do something so he can realize this love; there is murder, further attempted murders, a trial, with a surprising outcome. It's well-written, the personalities well-developed and the story is interesting and entertaining. I liked it much more than I thought I would. Excellent.
Profile Image for DeAnna Knippling.
Author 163 books254 followers
September 8, 2015
WOW. I was totally blown out of the water on the characterization in this book. It's note-perfect and just insane, as perfectly looney as American Psycho, and almost harder to read. It's very uncomfortable being in the main character's head; he's so mild and justified at every level. Whew. Don't know if I'll ever be able to read it again, but I was utterly impressed.
Profile Image for Deb Jones.
695 reviews78 followers
May 30, 2022
Malice Aforethought, written during the Golden Age of Mystery, broke the rules of that time where mystery stories followed a set of established rules. Francis Iles (Anthony Berkeley) broke the mold altogether by writing the first mystery novel told from the point of view of the killer.

Nowadays there are many such books, for which we as readers have Iles/Berkeley to thank. There's no unreliable narrator in Malice Aforethought. We are treated to a third-person telling of first the conception of the crime, its planning, execution, and aftermath.

Profile Image for Emilia Barnes.
542 reviews97 followers
August 17, 2021
Enjoyable inverted detective story. The writing is not beautiful but carries you along efficiently to the conclusion. Quick and fun psychological adventure, which leaves you guessing and sweating until the end about not whodunnit (revealed in the first sentence) but how and whether they will face justice.
881 reviews39 followers
September 1, 2018
Thank you to NetGalley and Dover Publications for a digital galley of this novel.

According to information in the book this is "an unabridged republication of the work originally published by Victor Gollancz, Ltd. London, in 1931." There will also be a new cover which is probably more in line with the one that might have appeared on the 1931 book.

I am a fan of the writing of Francis Iles but have never read this book. I'm so glad I was able to read it now because Iles wrote a psychological thriller where the reader knows from the first few chapters that Dr. Edmund Bickley is going to kill his wife. This was quite a groundbreaking device at the time the novel was written and it was most entertaining to watch Bickley plan, carry out and then deal with the aftermath of Julia's death. Bickley also congratulates himself that he will be able to remove Julia from his life without anyone being aware of what he had done. Murder? No, Dr. Bickley will not have it that he is planning a murder.

Watching Dr. Bickley go through all the personality changes that took him from a timid, henpecked husband to a self-confident man contemplating murder for anyone who aroused his anger was completely absorbing. What I had not realized is that I would be experiencing humor inserted throughout the book. Dr. Bickley's partial description of a woman with Titan hair included "...she was so excessively lady-like that butter would obviously not melt even in her flaming hair."

I'm so glad I took the time to read this wonderfully written novel. If you enjoy good mystery fiction, this just might be a good fit for you. Being without all the modern day technology takes the book along at a seeming slower pace. Although it certainly didn't seem to slow down the spread of gossip through the village.
Profile Image for Susan in NC.
856 reviews
August 2, 2022
3.5 stars for the writing, humor and characters, I can see why it’s a classic inverted mystery, but one star on my personal scale, as I really don’t enjoy being in a psychopath’s head, and didn’t like reading this for the most part. I felt like a rubbernecking driver passing a bloody crash on a highway - can’t look away!

We know from the first page who the murderer is, because the author tells us. The opening scene, at a tennis party given in a Devonshire village by Dr. Edmund Bickleigh and his wife, sets the stage wonderfully with dark, snarky humor. The reader clearly sees that the doctor is of a lower social class than his wife, a fact she has reminded him of every day of their 10 year marriage. She orders him around in front of guests - we are also told he is a diminutive man, and obviously insecure.

At first I pitied him, but eventually, as the novel progressed and I spent more time in his mind I found it disturbing and sordid. I don’t generally read dark, psychological mysteries and thrillers starring serial killers. I know there are plenty of dark, malicious, evil people in the world, just from watching and reading the news. I prefer more traditional mysteries and police procedurals in the Golden Age Christie mold, to escape the dark stuff!

There is a twist ending, cleverly done, as is the whole plot; Francis Iles was a pseudonym of Anthony Berkeley, one of the founders of the Detection Club. I’ve read a couple of his mysteries and stories and they are all different, clever and well written. This one was not my cup of tea, as there wasn’t a likable character in the book, and the killer was such a misogynistic, malicious, vengeful, narcissistic person, I felt sordid just being in his head! But it was clever and well-written. I would be interested to read more of Berkeley’s books.
396 reviews1 follower
February 12, 2021
This is a 1931 book by famous English crime writer Anthony Berkeley Cox writing under the pen-name Francis Iles. His other popular pseudonym is Anthony Berkeley (under which he wrote his other famous mystery “The Poisoned Chocolates Case”). Malice Aforethought is written as an “inverted mystery”, a format invented by Austin Freeman, where the reader knows from the start who the murderer is and how and why the crime is conceived and watch it unfolds. The book is written from the murderer’s point of view and is a good psychological mystery about a womanizer driven to kill by an inferiority complex and delusional grandeur. It is also about how murder begets murder. The book is also quite humorous. Overall, I find this classic Golden Age mystery very enjoyable with a clever plot.

Spoiler Alert. The story is about a middle-aged country doctor (Dr Edmund Bickleigh)’s plan to murder his wife Mrs Julia Bickleigh and its aftermaths. The setting starts in 1928 in a small village in Devonshire called Wyvern’s Cross. Edmund is very mindful that he is short in stature; came from a lower middle-class family which he is ashamed of; and married a wife who came from an old and important family in Devonshire. He has a major inferiority complex and is a hen-pecked husband. Julia has a domineering personality and likes to humiliate Edmund in public. Edmund looks at himself as a commoner and is a Nobody who married a wife who is a Somebody. To compensate for his inferiority complex, Edmund has for years been a womanizer and had affairs with many younger girls in the village. Julia has consistently turned a blind eye to his affairs. Problem starts, however, when Edmund got infatuated with a rich neighbor who just moved to the village, 21-year old Madeleine Cranmere. Edmund pursued her and the two started an affair. Edmund dreamt of marrying Madeleine so he can share in her fortune and asked Julia for a divorce. When Julia refused, Edmund decided to murder Julia. After giving us the motive, Iles then lay out Edmund’s plan, his preparation and execution. The plan is actually quite ingenious. As a doctor, Edmund knows of a drug called Farralite, which is used to treat uric acid diathesis. It is, however, not a successful drug because it has a side effect of causing massive headaches. Edmund, for a period of months, grounded up Farralite as a poison and sprinkled them on Julia’s food daily. When Julia has constant bad headaches as a result, he gave her morphine injections to alleviate the pain. Overtime, as drug resistance sets in, Edmund increased Julia’s dosage. Julia soon got addicted to morphine and Edmund let it be known that Julia is now addicted to morphine and injects herself frequently (which is not true). Finally, on one fateful date, Edmund decided to give her a massive morphine overdose and killed her. Edmund was also smart in creating an alibi for himself so that it looks like Julia was giving herself an injection and OD herself by accident.

Unfortunately for Edmund, Madeleine decided to break up with Edmund and marry a younger man on that same day. In the meantime, one of Edmund’s former mistress, a young girl called Ivy Ridgeway, has now married a rich solicitor called William Chatford. After the marriage, Chatford learnt of Ivy and Edmund’s former affair, got very angry, and decided to cause trouble for Edmund. When William heard of rumors about the suspicious death of Julia, William went to Scotland Yard and asked them to investigate. Edmund, who after his first successful murder has got arrogant and confident in his ability to design undetectable murders, started thinking himself as an “artist in death”. So he tried to kill both Madeleine and William (Madeleine for revenge, William for profit because Edmund believes if William died, Edmund can marry Ivy who would then have inherited William’s money). He invited Madeleine and William to a tea party, together with Madeleine’s husband Dennis Bourne. Edmund then tried to kill them by food poisoning and disguise it as accidental botulism. What he did was he has grown some bacteria culture in an incubator. He then put the bacteria into some potted meat sandwiches that are served to Madeleine and William. He also created a false scent that the potted meat bought by the cook was spoiled to divert attention from himself. Unfortunately for Edmund, both of them survived. Ultimately, Scotland Yard came in an arrested Edmund. He was tried for the murder of Julia and the attempted murder of Madeleine and William. Iles then presented us with a decent trial scene where Edmund was tried. Even though the prosecution was able to prove Edmund had purchased Farralite multiple times, found Farralite residuals in Julia’s body, and Madeleine testified that Edmund told her Julia is dead at a time before Edmund was supposed to know about the accidental OD, the jury nevertheless acquitted Edmund from Julia’s murder, believing that she accidentally overdosed. In a surprising twist of fate, after Edmund was acquitted of that crime, he was arrested, tried, convicted and executed for the murder of Madeleine’s husband Dennis Bourne, who apparently died of poisoning. Interesting Edmund has nothing to do with that. The readers are left to wonder did Madeleine, who is mentally unstable and is on the verge of divorcing Dennis, killed Dennis and framed Edmund for the crime.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Robyn.
372 reviews12 followers
March 14, 2021
Okay, this book was brilliant.

Not sure how many of my Goodreads friends are into the mystery/crime genre but those that are might have picked up on the fact that I'm working my way through the Eight Perfect Murders reading list before I read the actual book. I've been having some trouble tracking all the titles down as several are old, less popular, close to being out of print. For this one I got an inter library loan. I had no idea what to expect. It was amazing!

It's like... if Thomas Harris and Jane Austen collaborated on a book together. You've heard of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this is Pride and Prejudice and OJ Simpson. Ridiculously witty, so very British, and the main character is an unsuspecting psycho. It is hilarious and highly disturbing all at once.

I kept trying to figure out where I have seen or read a similar story before - and then, like when I read Agatha Christie, I realized it's because this book is The OG of the trope. In this case it's the "weak man is sick of being bossed around by his wife, decides to murder her, ensuing screwups create the need to murder more people" storyline.

HIGHLY recommend for fans of crime fiction.
Profile Image for martin.
475 reviews15 followers
October 8, 2007
Definitely one of those cases where the book is better than the film (or in this case the TV series).

The humour in the writing is worth many chuckles and reminded me oddly enough of Jane Austen in the way the middle class characters hide behind language while using it carefully to cut and wound. Obviously there's some Agatha Christie (and Midsomer Murders!) in the plot of murder in the moneyed classes, but Iles is all about motive and character rather than finding the villain.

He happily makes fun of all his characters and their self-important obsessions, pretensions and weaknesses. He has an endearing habit of taking a stock phrase or saying and then rephrasing it to highlight its component parts - making the normal and the everyday seem humorous.

As sometimes happens reading something written many years ago, sometimes we notice the changes in the use of language. A modern reader would understand a lot more by the Doctor "making love to Madeleine" than was intended by Iles back in the 1930's

Profile Image for Silvio111.
402 reviews8 followers
August 3, 2018
This author is diabolical. Francis Iles is a pseudonym, and he had written some other things before adopting this nom de plume. This one was written in 1931 and according to the forward, Iles prefigured writers like Patricia Highsmith and PD James, among others, who took the psychological approach.

So having decided to give Iles a try, I waded in. Initially I thought, oh no, I am following the mind of a John Updike-type creep. Should I bail?

But then, quite subtly, some characters whom I had trusted revealed themselves to have multiple sides, and in fact, the first victim (yes, there are several...) redeemed herself quite solidly before the protagonist performed the murder he advertised to the reader on Page 1.

This is a clever book. The psychological parts do get a bit entangled at times, but all in all, an excellent read. And far be it from me to warn you about a surprise twist at the end. Irony was alive and well in 1931.
Displaying 1 - 29 of 204 reviews

Join the discussion

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.