Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles: One of the Best Crime Novels Ever Written
Malice Aforethought is considered one of the best crime novels ever written and one of the first examples of the “inverted detective story.” Here, both the murder AND murderer are revealed at the beginning. The intrigue builds as the reader sees how the detective unravels the clues to solve the mystery.
Published in 1931, the book ranks #16 in the Crime Writers’ Association’s Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time.
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Podcast Transcript: Malice Aforethought - Best Crime Novels
Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea Tonic & Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison.
Carolyn Daughters 0:35
And I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a cup of tea, a gin and tonic, …
Sarah Harrison 0:40
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:44
And join us on a journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
Sarah Harrison 0:56
Carolyn, we’re back!
Carolyn Daughters 0:58
This is our second episode on Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles, which is the pseudonym of Anthony Berkeley Cox. It’s quite possibly one of the best crime novels ever written.
Sarah Harrison 1:10
It’s a really interesting book. I can see why this made our list of developments in mystery.
Carolyn Daughters 1:20
Anthony Berkeley Cox does a lot of new stuff, in particular with the inverted mystery form, which we’ll talk more about in this episode. But before we get too far, we always like to thank our sponsor, Grace Sigma. It’s one of our favorites, to be honest with you. It’s a boutique process engineering consultancy run by Sarah Harrison. Grace Sigma works nationally in such industries with finance, telecom, and government. They use lean methods to assist in data dashboarding, storytelling, training, process visualization, and project management. Whether you’re a small business looking to scale or a large company whose processes have become tangled, Grace Sigma can help. You can learn more, and you should, at gracesigma.com.
Sarah Harrison 2:18
Thank you, Tea Tonic & Toxin.
Carolyn Daughters 2:21
And we also have a listener award.
Sarah Harrison 2:22
Thank you, Tara McQuade from Los Angeles, California. You listened to our last two episodes on The Maltese Falcon. You’ve been active on social media, you’ve gotten our attention, and we are excited to send you a sticker. We hope you like it. And please keep listening, reading, commenting, questioning all of the things. All of it. And if you haven’t already, folks, get a sticker yourself by doing all those things Tara has been doing.
Carolyn Daughters 3:09
If you’d like to get your own on-air shout out and one of these awesome stickers, just comment on our website teatonicandtoxin.com. You can also comment on our Facebook page @teatonicandtoxin and Instagram page @teatonicandtoxin. Tell us what you think are the best crime novels ever written. Give us five stars on your favorite podcast platform. We are everywhere. Spotify, Apple podcasts, everywhere.
Sarah Harrison 3:21
And new Spotify feature polls and questions. If you want fill those out, it’s quick and easy. And we’d love to get your feedback. And you’ll get a sticker. Of course you will. We have stacks of stickers. We’re overflowing with stickers.
Carolyn Daughters 3:38
And they’re beautiful.
Sarah Harrison 3:43
We also have a super exciting guest today.
Carolyn Daughters 3:46
We do. Someone completely unknown to us. His name is Nate Harrison. He just strolled in and decided he wanted to be a guest, and we were like, sure, why not.
Nate Harrison 3:56
Thanks for pulling me off the street. It’s great to be here. Sarah looks familiar to me.
Carolyn Daughters 4:02
We will get into that as well. Nate Harrison is a geophysicist who works in the field of environmental remediation. He grew up in Palo Alto, California. He attended college at the University of California Davis and attended graduate school at the University of Montana. He’s very well educated. Nate has been living in Denver for 16 years. And that’s where he met his wife Sarah, who I believe is Sarah Harrison. Is there any connection?
Sarah Harrison 4:31
I think she is a co-host of a fabulous podcast.
Carolyn Daughters 4:35
What podcast would that be?
Sarah Harrison 4:36
I think it’s something like Tea, Toxin, and Toxin, something like that?
Carolyn Daughters 4:41
Yeah, it’s probably toxin and toxin. In addition to geology and the environmental work, Nate enjoys his hobbies such as biking and photography. His primary interests today include being a father to his two children and working on the house that he and his wife have helped design and build over the last 18 to 27 years.
Nate Harrison 5:01
In feeling, yes.
Carolyn Daughters 5:03
It has felt like that long, but it has been certainly a handful of years. Welcome, Sarah’s husband, Nate.
Sarah Harrison 5:10
Nate Harrison 5:12
I’m happy to be here. Thank you for having me, honey.
Sarah Harrison 5:17
Don’t murder me like Teddy Bickleigh murders his wife.
Carolyn Daughters 5:22
The best crime novels always have great murdering tips. Don’t get ideas from this book.
Nate Harrison 5:23
That’s no joke. After reading this book and getting in Teddy’s head and getting in this book, I really wondered, like, say, Sarah gives me a glass of something. There could be something in it. It’s really easy to kill your spouse.
Sarah Harrison 5:34
It could be typhoid in there. Well, for those of you who haven’t read our really fascinating book, Malice Aforethought, it is a psychological thriller published in 1931. It was written by Francis Iles, the pseudonym of Anthony Berkeley Cox. The story centers around Dr. Edmund Bickleigh, a respected physician in a small English village. He is in a loveless marriage with Julia, a domineering woman of superior social status. Harboring deep resentment towards her, he soothes his inferiority complex by seducing various local women. Edmund becomes infatuated with young wealthy Madeleine Cranmere. Wanting to be free of his wife and start a new life with Madeleine, he plans a cold, calculated murder. He poisons Julia and gives her morphine to ease her pain, all the while pretending to be a devoted husband, Julia dies miserably just as Madeline becomes engaged to another man. The premeditated murder initially goes undetected. However, rumors spread that Julia’s death wasn’t accidental. Led by a better husband of one of Edmond’s ex-lovers, Edmund then poisons both the husband and Madeleine. Scotland Yard investigates, and Edmund is put on trial, leading to a dramatic climax. Malice Aforethought is a landmark in crime fiction, as the murderer’s identity is revealed at the start. Hailed as a tour de force by the British press of its day, the book stands at number 16 in the Crime Writers Association ranking of the top 100 crime novels of all time. Today, we’re excited to talk about Malice Aforethought. It’s our ninth book selection of 2023. You can find more information about Malice Aforethought, and all of our 2023 books elections on our website at teatonicandtoxin.com.
Carolyn Daughters 7:31
Sarah, can you believe it’s her ninth book of the year?
Sarah Harrison 7:35
I can’t. This is our second year of reading and discussing the best mysteries and the best crime novels ever written.
Carolyn Daughters 7:41
This is our second season. Year two feels a little different to me than year one. We know a little bit more about what we’re doing. In some areas, we’re expanding our knowledge base and bringing guests on. We’re still challenging ourselves and pushing our own boundaries. But I can’t believe we’ve been doing this for a year and nine months now.
Sarah Harrison 8:07
I know. But it’s really fun. And it’s really enjoyable to do it. I’ve enjoyed all the books we’ve read.
Carolyn Daughters 8:15
We had 11 books in year one and nine so far this year. Tons of reading and podcast listening for you to catch up on. Lots of the best mysteries and best crime novels ever written. So we want to talk a little bit about this very cool thing called The Detection Club.
Sarah Harrison 8:36
Yes, you dug that up, and it made me want to start a detection club here in Denver, the Denver Detection Club
Carolyn Daughters 8:43
Back in 1930, Anthony Berkeley Cox was one of the founding members of the Detection Club, which included these incredible members. Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Hugh Walpole, E.C. Bentley, Baroness Emma Orczy. The president was of the club was G. K. Chesterton. If you’ve been listening to our podcasts and reading the books, you realize most of these people are authors we’ve been reading in the Tea Tonic, & Toxin book club and podcast. Dorothy Sayers, we read Whose Body. We’re going to read The Nine Tailors. It’s the last book of 2023. We also read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
Sarah Harrison 9:19
We’re also going to read Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.
Carolyn Daughters 9:46
Trent’s Last Case by E.C. Bentley. G. K. Chesterton, one of our favorites.
Sarah Harrison 9:55
Don’t forget Father Brown.
Carolyn Daughters 9:54
Yes, we read The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton. Authors who wrote the best mysteries and the best crime novels would gather. What they would do, my understanding, is they would gather for dinner. It was a social club. There were rumors that the club was started to help soothe Agatha Christie, who was going through a very hard time with a divorce. And there were these, I think, 11 days that she sort of disappeared off the radar. I might have the days wrong, and I apologize. Agatha Christie enthusiasts, please let me know what I’m missing. But there’s speculation that that’s part of the reason the club started. To give her some light entertainment with her with her friends, other detective story writers. And then there’s this really cool initiation oath. Dorothy Sayers wrote it, so it’s important.
Nate Harrison 11:03
The initiation oath, written by Dorothy Sayers, goes like this: “Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of divine revelation, feminine intuition, mumbo jumbo, jiggery pokery, coincidence, or act of God?” Jiggery pokery. I love the old timey expression. Jiggery pokery.
Carolyn Daughters 11:44
And the mumbo jumbo.
Sarah Harrison 11:46
We need some kind of oath involving jiggery pokery.
Nate Harrison 11:49
I’m gonna work jiggery pokery into a conversation within the next week. That’s my goal.
Sarah Harrison 11:54
I love stuff like this. I love dinner clubs. I love themed dinners. Have you guys ever been in a dinner club? Is that a thing? Do people still have dinner clubs?
Nate Harrison 12:06
I have not been to one.
Carolyn Daughters 12:08
I like the idea of a dinner club. Especially if authors of the best mysteries and best crime novels are attending.
Sarah Harrison 12:17
Well, you know me, I love themed dinners. I don’t know that I’ve had a dinner club, but but I love having a themed dinner on different lines. I got recently an English puddings cookbook, and I’m planning an English puddings themed dinner of historic flummeries.
Carolyn Daughters 12:41
Is that the word, “flummery”?
Sarah Harrison 12:43
Yeah. Flummery is a category of pudding.
Nate Harrison 12:47
The pudding might not be sweet. That’s the thing that took me a minute to figure out.
Sarah Harrison 12:51
Yes, sweet and savory.
Nate Harrison 12:53
Putting doesn’t mean dessert.
Carolyn Daughters 12:55
What does pudding mean?
Sarah Harrison 12:57
I’m gonna have to do more reading. It means a lot of things. It’s fascinating.
Carolyn Daughters 13:07
I love the idea of these major authors all being in the same room. I’m starstruck 90 years into the future just thinking about them all having conversations together. Sharing ideas, talking about what they did in their last books. Maybe they ran ideas by each other. Who knows what they did. Maybe they talked about gardening. I don’t know what they did.
Nate Harrison 13:37
Yeah. And it reminded me of how some of the best horror came about from authors who were friends with each other. Apparently, the idea for Frankenstein came up with these authors being stuck at a ski lodge. They were all snowed in. You guys, I think, know more about this than I do.
Carolyn Daughters 13:54
The only things that I think that I know are that Mary Shelley, her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and maybe Lord Byron’s half-sister, something like that. Mary Shelley, as young as she was, came up with the story of Frankenstein, which is an incredible accomplishment. I would say for anybody who has not read Frankenstein, you can do it in just a couple hours. Very slim novel, and it is powerful. It’s incredible what she did in that book.
Sarah Harrison 14:30
I love that The Detective Club is still going on today in London.
Nate Harrison 14:36
It’s still going from 1930? Wow.
Sarah Harrison 14:39
How do you get into this Detection Club? I love that they leveled up from dinner club to like swearing oaths.
Carolyn Daughters 14:51
And that they’re still meeting. Initially they only allowed detective novelists. Now they allow people who write the best spy thrillers and the best crime novels. Basically, all the different derivatives of the genre. Do they take podcast hosts?
Sarah Harrison 15:03
Oh, that would be too cool.
Carolyn Daughters 15:04
You know, just hinting. We would probably say “yes” if we were asked. I’m assuming somebody knocks on your door in the middle of the night in a hooded robe and hands you a wax-sealed document and a candle.
Nate Harrison 15:33
And I bet they have a great stickers.
Carolyn Daughters 15:36
And a sticker that says detection club. It would go right next to my Tea Tonic & Toxin sticker on my YETI bottle. So I think this is so cool. And so Anthony Berkeley Cox is one of the members, and I would argue he’s one of the lesser-known individuals at this point in time. I had never heard of him at either. Had you heard of him?
Nate Harrison 16:02
I had not.
Sarah Harrison 16:03
No, but that’s not saying too much for me. I haven’t heard of a lot of the folks that aren’t, you know, Agatha Christie.
Carolyn Daughters 16:11
That’s fair. Before we started podcasting, I would have recognized everybody but E. C. Bentley, Baroness Emma Orczy, and Anthony Berkeley Cox. But I would have known Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Hugh Walpole, and G. K. Chesterton. Anthony Berkeley Cox I had never heard of, but I’m thrilled that we’ve found him.
Sarah Harrison 16:44
Yeah, he wrote this wild book, which probably is one of the best crime novels ever written. And he started a super cool dinner club.
Carolyn Daughters 16:52
Personally and professionally, he’s off the charts here. There are a bunch of things that we talked about in our last podcast and several things that we did not get to, that we want to talk about. And one of them is this idea of the inferiority complex.
Sarah Harrison 17:13
I don’t think we use that term anymore, do we? I don’t hear people saying “inferiority complex” these days.
Nate Harrison 17:19
That’s true. I haven’t heard it in a long time. That’s a good point. I hadn’t really thought about that. But I guess it’s been replaced by other things.
Sarah Harrison 17:26
I hear people talking about impostor syndrome a lot. And it sounds like there are some similarities there. But I don’t hear inferiority complex used.
Carolyn Daughters 17:37
It feels like impostor syndrome is something that many people could experience at some point or another. Whereas inferiority complex is something that an individual may experience or have an issue with.
Sarah Harrison 18:03
We’re discussing the best crime novels ever written as an airplane is going over your house.
Carolyn Daughters 18:05
It’s always something. We haven’t heard the ice cream man yet. Just airplanes today, folks. Sarah, tell me what you’re thinking about with regard to inferiority complexes and imposter syndrome? And how one maybe is more common than the other today.
Sarah Harrison 18:31
All I can do at this point is just riff on ideas, because I haven’t looked anything up. But I just wondered, did the idea of inferiority complex go out of fashion? Like, do we not like the term “inferiority” now? I don’t know. I know what it is, but I haven’t heard anyone actually say it in years, even though there are plenty of people who feel like Bickleigh, people who feel like they don’t measure up. In the book, Iles talks about how his dad was a chemist. Teddy Bickleigh just lived in fear. His own wife didn’t know his dad was a chemist. She assumed his dad was a doctor. For those of you that don’t know, chemist is a lower level than a doctor. And he just lived in fear that someone would come who knew his father and would out him as just a chemist’s son.
Carolyn Daughters 19:31
By lower level, you mean …
Sarah Harrison 19:33
Of the aristocracy.
Carolyn Daughters 19:34
Less education and training?
Sarah Harrison 19:36
I don’t know. But socially lower.
Nate Harrison 19:43
But they also mention his height as well, right, as being this major player in his development. And I thought it said at one point that he could have been otherwise normal if it weren’t for the fact that he was born so short. It’s strange thinking that Teddy Bickleigh’s height is as the core of one of the best crime novels.
Sarah Harrison 19:55
That’s another thing that I’ve noticed that has changed over time. When I was younger, that would have been called a Napoleon Complex. But now I don’t hear people really refer to that anymore. Although I think it’s certainly true that we get obsessed with certain physical traits about ourselves. And it does impact our mental framework of how we think about ourselves? I don’t know. Have you guys ever done that? Have you felt impacted by something physical about yourself, something that traveled into your mental self-perception?
Nate Harrison 20:37
I mean, all the time. I can’t think of a good example of that right now.
Sarah Harrison 20:41
Nate Harrison 20:42
I’m trying to think. But no, I mean, especially being young, you’re constantly redefining who you are based on, I don’t know, whatever sort of comes at you. Physically, I’m trying to think of an example. But it feels like it’s all the time that happens. But I guess later on in life, you don’t really spend a lot of time trying to define who you are exactly at least.
Sarah Harrison 21:03
You don’t try to, but it just seeps in. You know, one thing that is always stuck in my mind was in third-grade gym class. We all got weighed. All my friends and I were standing in line saying what our weights were to each other. And I noticed, for the first time ever, that my weight was quite a bit more than everyone else’s weight, all the little girls standing next to me. And that grew into probably a pretty unhealthy bit of self-consciousness that sort of persists and stays with you.
Carolyn Daughters 21:46
The imposter syndrome element I can identify with for sure.
Sarah Harrison 21:54
How? I don’t see you feeling that way.
Carolyn Daughters 21:59
It’s more something in my consciousness. I don’t know that it necessarily drives me or defines me. So, there’s business meeting Carolyn. Some days, I lead meetings all day, every day. And Sarah, I know you can identify with that. And I can be just brass tacks, get down to business, not very fun, very matter of fact, we have a lot to accomplish, let’s do it. And then I feel like, okay, I’m not being as social as I should be. I’m not engaging with everybody in as lighthearted a manner as I should in order to weave the bonds of longer term relationships. So then the flip side, I can also in meetings be kind of silly and irreverent. I throw things out that I think are funny. Do other people think they’re funny? I have no idea. But I’m like, God, I’m hysterical. Other people may or may not. But I can be that person. And I have a lot of trouble bringing the two together. And so I feel like I’m either one or the other. I’m fun member of the team who can also get stuff done. Or I’m, “Let’s rock this out, we have a lot to do, let’s not waste time, get to it.” Then I start feeling like, who am I and where do I need to be? Does that make sense?
Sarah Harrison 23:40
I think it’s almost a funny human trait that we sort of place our brains outside of ourselves to evaluate what we’re doing every given moment. I would say my imposter syndrome probably rears its head most when I start a new job or a new anything. I always spend definitely the first six months. My repeating thing in my head is “I’m too stupid for this job. Why am I so stupid?” And now I just have to counter that with, “You think that about every job, Sarah. After a year, you’ll be okay. Just get through it and shut up.”
Nate Harrison 24:21
I guess I’ve had that thought going into work meetings where we’re meeting about some project, and I don’t really know that much about it. And I think, “what am I going to say in this meeting? Why am I even here?” And then I talk for almost all of it, and I have all these opinions, and I’m like, okay, well, I guess I did have something to say then.
Carolyn Daughters 24:38
I have the reverse problem where I always have a lot to say, and I have to calibrate at the beginning of the meeting. Am I going to charge ahead? I have opinions about a lot of things. When I understand a particular subject, I can go on and on and on. I’m a faucet. I can be turned off completely, or I can be turned on completely. On the back end of some meetings, I will think, “You should have weighed in. You calibrated too hard. You really should have weighed in.” Or, “God, you dominated that meeting. Why did you say so much? For me, it’s a constant, how can I best serve myself and the meeting and the needs of this group?
Sarah Harrison 25:48
It’s like you’re crafting which Carolyn should be showing up here.
Carolyn Daughters 25:51
And then I start wondering which Carolyn is the real Carolyn.
Nate Harrison 25:55
Podcast Carolyn is the real Carolyn.
Sarah Harrison 26:10
You don’t want to be the Carolyn that feels like she has to say every thought in your head either, though. Neither one of those are that great. Those are just the polar opposites, the self-editor and the one that just thinks they should always say what they think. It’s hard to craft the right. I don’t know. I’m of the opinion that they’re all real. They’re all the real Sarah.
Carolyn Daughters 26:34
They’re all facets of one’s identity.
Sarah Harrison 26:36
I think it’s totally legitimate to craft what you’re showing to the situation. It can’t just be one way.
Carolyn Daughters 26:47
And I think self-evaluation is good, generally. So maybe not an issue, per se.
Sarah Harrison 26:55
But have you edged into murder like in the best crime novels?
Carolyn Daughters 26:58
I’ve never come out of this thinking, boy, this imposter syndrome has weighed on me so heavily that I am going to murder someone.
Sarah Harrison 27:09
That’s sort of the aspect that might be missing from this book. Like I get it. I get the feeling of inferiority. I think we all do. I get like Teddy Bickleigh’s feeling about his social standing. Even though he did it with intention, it was a stupid mistake to marry the wife who’s just reinforcing this terrible view of himself. But also, where was the origin story of being a complete sociopath?. I mean, Francis Iles doesn’t mention his mother at all. You don’t really know the sociopath side of it. But there’s certainly something extra there or something missing there. Where overcoming his inferiority complex, murder is a legitimate route.
Carolyn Daughters 28:03
Let me ask you guys this. So, in many of the best crime novels, somebody commits a murder, and then the second murder is oh, so much easier to commit. The first one, maybe you’ve got to get your courage up. But the second one, it’s easy, or easier. Do you guys think that Teddy Bickleigh was infatuated with Madeleine Cranmere, and then it became obsession that pushed him along. At the same time, this rebuffing by Gwynyfryd. And they all came together as this perfect storm, enabling him to commit the first murder, which then just spiraled out of control?
Nate Harrison 29:00
I think the spiral out of control certainly played a part because he seemed to be so joyful about the next murders Or at least his attempted murders. He was so happy with himself. He thought of himself as this great artist in a way. And it seemed like it just kept going. It kind of reminded me of like thinking about Henry VIII, the guy with the many, many wives. It took him so long to get that first divorce and remarried, and then he couldn’t stop. He just kept divorcing or having his wife killed for some reason and then remarrying someone else. I feel like it just steamrolled.
Carolyn Daughters 29:38
He started feeling superhuman after he realized, “I did it. I got away with it. Everybody was too stupid to even know what I was doing.” And then he started elevating his own self-importance and minimalizing anybody else’s ability to recognize what was happening around them.
Nate Harrison 29:58
Yeah, there was that line in there about “Pretty much anyone that’s an inconvenience ought to be murdered.” Or something like that.
Sarah Harrison 30:05
I like this particular quote: “A successful murder, brilliantly planned and flawlessly carried out, lifted one out of the category of worms.” Is that the core of the best crime novels? You know, Teddy Bickleigh’s murders really bolstered his self-esteem here. And he just so happened to murder the one person that could keep him grounded.
Carolyn Daughters 30:28
So was it flawless?
Sarah Harrison 30:30
Nate Harrison 30:32
Definitely not. In his mind it certainly was. But yeah, I hadn’t really thought of that other aspect of the story, that his wife is what really kept him grounded. Because she could read people, she could read situations. She was very rational. And Teddy was up in the clouds a lot about his view of himself and his view of other people.
Sarah Harrison 30:56
Up in the clouds or down in the depths, but just not grounded at all. I think he even self-referred to himself as a superman, like that Nietzsche term. I googled it here, it’s a superior version of humanity. He saw himself in those terms.
Carolyn Daughters 31:24
“Teddy knew that in murder he had qualified not only as a fine artist, but as a superman. To know that one could really rid oneself of anyone who became impossible. The only pity was that the artist in this particular medium should be unable to point proudly to his triumphs. Art for art’s sake.” Wow, crazytown. Maybe that’s the core of the best crime novels. Let’s talk about Ivy for a minute. Ivy is arguably one of the biggest flaws in this flawless plan. Julia is about to die. He pulls his car off somewhere, runs back home, runs back to the car, and lo and behold, runs into Ivy. Is this really a flawless plan? He runs into Ivy, and now everything is predicated on the time that he can get her to agree to that they actually met up.
Sarah Harrison 32:34
One of the things that just really hurt my heart about this book was his callous behavior. I would say, it’s flawless in his mind because he just dismisses Ivy as a person over and over and over again. She’s nothing. She’s worse than nothing. And she’s so in love with him. He was the first person, the only person she’d ever been with before she was married. So she has all of these like tender feelings. It was a big deal for her. For him, it was an annoyance. So, no, it’s not a flawless plan if you consider Ivy to be a human. If you don’t, then sure. And Ivy honestly does her best for him to maintain this conception of her. She tries to give the wrong time and cover up for him. You look like you’re thinking something, honey.
Nate Harrison 33:31
While it’s just funny how, how guilty is it when he tells Ivy, “Oh, by the way, if anyone asks, tell them you saw me at this time,” which is 20 minutes before that time. And she didn’t even remember what time it was when she saw him.
Sarah Harrison 33:45
Shee didn’t know the time in the first place.
Nate Harrison 33:49
He clearly asked her what time it was on her watch. Oh, my watch happened to stop. Good. We’ve got this time stamped, and then he tells her to lie about what time it was. Just in case anyone asks.
Sarah Harrison 34:00
It’s pretty late in the book when he realizes Ivy is on him. Ivy knows. And you could tell Ivy could read a room early on. She knows what’s going on. She knows how he feels about her. She just can’t accept it.
Nate Harrison 34:15
And his other great blunder, in addition to the thought of how he could control Ivy and what she says on the stand, is when he goes to confront Madeleine. He goes to Madeleine’s house at the Hall at the time that his wife was dying and says “My wife is dead” before he even gets the call. It’s completely impulsive.
Carolyn Daughters 34:35
Also not a flawless plan. Even while that was happening. I was thinking to myself, here’s your downfall. You just announced her murder before you were told of her murder. Are criminals usually this stupid in the best crime novels? For him to think it’s flawless and for him to dismiss all these red flags that were could come back to haunt him I thought was kind of amazing.
Sarah Harrison 35:00
Well, I guess if you can talk yourself into murder, you can talk yourself into a lot of ideas about yourself. The whole Ivy thing was was very tragic to me. It was tragic. I was glad she got married and got out of the Teddy situation, but then it wasn’t a great marriage for her either.
Carolyn Daughters 35:25
No, it was it was pretty bad. I mean, her husband knows that she has this past with Teddy, because he’s super savvy.
Sarah Harrison 35:35
He’s really good. He’s a smooth operator. And you can tell he was used to winning legal cases.
Carolyn Daughters 35:42
He can read a room.
Sarah Harrison 35:43
Yeah. And nobody can read him, which is the double-edged sword.
Carolyn Daughters 35:48
Ivy’s husband is driving home with Ivy after this tea party that Miss Peavy hosts. And he says to Ivy, “If I’d known what you’d been before I asked you to marry me, I wouldn’t have looked at you again.” Whoa.
Sarah Harrison 36:03
That hurts her.
Carolyn Daughters 36:06
This is another example of this sort of marriage, that sort of Teddy/Julia marriage with this massive disconnect or wall between them where it’s about as unhealthy a marriage as it can possibly be. Some of the best crime novels surely start with a bad marriage, right?
Sarah Harrison 36:26
That’s tough. I have a couple of feelings about that. I mean, my first feeling, in one sense is the same way. Kind of like, Julia knows her husband. And what does Ivy do? She just continues to sleep with Teddy. She covers up his murder, and it’s not like she’s loyal or loving to Chatford. She was getting out of a bad situation. And it is a little surprising, as savvy as he is, that he didn’t read it before he married her
Carolyn Daughters 36:59
What is what is the attraction to Teddy? Many of these women seem attracted to him.
Nate Harrison 37:06
I wondered that myself. I really don’t know. I mean, it seems like he’s very forward, or at least he can be. Maybe that’s a part of it. But I don’t really know what his great attraction is, to be honest.
Sarah Harrison 37:18
I think it’s that he likes people, that he likes to get along. He likes to be gotten along with. He likes people. There’s a quote something like, “Like most people, he liked to be liked by the people he liked. And he liked most people.” It’s the same way that Madeleine is a really good listener. Teddy likes people, and that’s attractive to people. You know, he likes them, he goes after them. Maybe they’ve never had attention before.
Nate Harrison 37:52
Ivy certainly comes off as someone that’s unfortunately vulnerable in this situation. Poor Ivy. The description of her in her marriage of still being this young girl that doesn’t look at all different after her marriage. She just looks like a young girl in a nice, expensive dress. And the way that she looks at her husband before saying anything. Or it’s either before or after she says anything, she glances at him for some kind of approval or disapproval, I guess.
Carolyn Daughters 38:19
Teddy treats her pretty poorly.
Sarah Harrison 38:22
Oh, I thought we were going to be reading about the murder of Ivy next. I’m glad she escaped that.
Nate Harrison 38:28
Narrowly. She narrowly escapes.
Sarah Harrison 38:29
We would have heard of her murder. He says, he’s gonna marry Ivy, and I was like, Oh, she’s gonna get murdered then.
Carolyn Daughters 38:36
He punches her in the face. He thinks about pushing her off the edge of a quarry,
Nate Harrison 38:43
Some kind of cave they would go hide in. And we also see one of those scenes where they’re going to meet at that cave, because Ivy asked to speak to him because she knows he’s being investigated. But we see one of those big turnarounds that he makes of disliking Ivy at all. He doesn’t know why he ever found any attraction towards Ivy. And for some reason, as he’s climbing up the walls of the cave, and they enter the cave, he sees her and then suddenly he completely changes his mind. He thinks, oh, maybe Ivy is this person I always should have been married to.
Sarah Harrison 39:16
Well, there’s that forbidden fruit concept again. He went after Julia because he thought Julia wouldn’t have anything to do with him. And he could get in that social class. And so he just pushed the limit. And suddenly Ivy is married, so her attractions come back. And he could have another man’s wife, and wouldn’t that be exciting? It’s another just social boundary he wants to push.
Nate Harrison 39:42
And yet he can never see this about himself. As you read the book, you just see what’s going on in his head and how convinced he is of everything he’s doing, even though it’s constantly changing. I mentioned to Sarah that it reminded me a little bit of Anna Karenina when I read that book because you’re very much in the head of those characters, and you see how they feel. And they’re often impulsive in that book, and they change their minds a lot. I know we’re talking about the best mysteries and best crime novels, but I can see some parallels here.
Carolyn Daughters 40:14
It’s like Teddy Bickleigh lives in an alternate universe in his head. There’s this fantasy vision of the world, and once he latches on mid-stream in the book to Ivy a second time, it’s like, oh, she’s the woman of my dreams. She’s the one I should have been with! How do I make that happen? Well, we have to get rid of her husband, Chatford.
Nate Harrison 40:44
Back to murder, the best solution.
Carolyn Daughters 40:46
He has these extended dreams where he’s winning Wimbledon, he’s Lord Bickleigh, he’s presented at court, he’s the best artist in the world. He takes that to extremes where it’s almost like he’s living in this parallel universe, where everything he does is increasingly genius and flawless and everybody else around him is dumber and dumber. At one point, Scotland Yard detective Russell is up in the attic with him. They’re touring the home. The incubator is there where he has been saving this botulism, which was really typhoid.
Sarah Harrison 41:36
It was typhoid. He thought it was botulism. This may be one of the best crime novels, but the criminal was pretty stupid.
Carolyn Daughters 41:39
He just assumes the detective doesn’t see it. And he’s smiling to himself.
Sarah Harrison 41:44
He can’t read a room. He takes everyone at their face value. And he thinks he’s the only one who’s presenting a facade. He thinks, “this detective really seems to like me. I think he thinks these charges are absurd.” He can’t see he’s putting on a face for a purpose. Other people also put on a face for a purpose.
Carolyn Daughters 42:07
As if he’s the only one with an inner life.
Sarah Harrison 42:10
The one that killed me. The biggest one that killed me was the test. We keep seeing the parallels in his other relationships. Ivy comes up again. Poor Ivy. She says she’s pregnant, and she is good. She’s weeping. She says she’s pregnant. He believes her. He’s ready to operate. And at that time, it sounds like it was a life-threatening operation. And she’s like, you don’t care what happens to me. You don’t love me at all. And then she reveals that she’s not pregnant. I think that’s when he punched her in the face.
Nate Harrison 42:46
Yeah, it was.
Sarah Harrison 42:48
But he got stuck with this idea of a test. And so he wants to know if Madeleine really loves him. So he asks her to run away with him. And she’s like, okay, and he’s like, “okay, now I know you love me!” He does everything worse than everyone else. He reads everyone more ineffectively than anyone else. But he walks away with this bulletproof vision of himself and his antics.
Carolyn Daughters 43:18
At one point, Madeleine’s traveling all around Europe. She comes back and says, Oh, it was just not very fun. And he says, Oh, I’m the scoundrel, who sent her on this extended journey. I felt so guilty about it.
Sarah Harrison 43:32
He wrote her every day, and she’s like, Oh, I was so excited, I could barely finish my breakfast before answering your letter once a week.
Nate Harrison 43:41
Once a week. And the responses were just a few sentences, but he just believed every word of it and loved it.
Sarah Harrison 43:49
“I hate it so much,” she said. “I miss you.”
Nate Harrison 43:53
Madeleine also says she hates spending time with Denny Bourne. Oh, it’s so terrible. Teddy Bickleigh thinks, “Poor Denny. He thinks she likes him. This poor man.”
Carolyn Daughters 44:02
Teddy is completely delusional and it got bigger and worse as the book goes on. You see him devolving, it felt to me. Whatever slight grasp on reality he may have had at the beginning of the book is shot by the end of the book.
Sarah Harrison 44:19
This is one of the best crime novels because he is poisoned by himself. But that kind of stuff always does scare me, though, I have to say. The whole concept of self-perception always scares me. Like, wow, he’s really blind to himself. And I’m just like, What am I blind to? What am I not seeing about myself? I know it’s probably a lot. I’m probably terrible. No one wants to speak to me. And I’ll go down that rabbit hole. Self-perception is tough.
Nate Harrison 44:55
It was really hard on Teddy in the courtroom when everything was coming to light. Because he thought they would get it all wrong. He thought they wouldn’t know anything. But they had the motive spot on. They knew exactly why he would have committed those murders. And he was amazed by that. And he couldn’t believe they got it all right and that it was all coming out.
Carolyn Daughters 45:14
He’s even tapping out of what’s happening around him in the courtroom, thinking about other things. “Oh, wait, did they just say the actual motive?”
Sarah Harrison 45:23
They even caught the thing he was using to give her headaches. And then they dismiss it because well, obviously he wouldn’t be using that to murder her when he just buys it out in the open and signs his name to it like that.
Carolyn Daughters 45:39
Maybe he’s not quite as clever as he gave himself credit for.
Sarah Harrison 45:42
His foibles actually kind of protected him because they were so idiotic.
Carolyn Daughters 45:49
There’s this news headlines near the end of the book. Julia’s body is exhumed, and the headline is “Women Cheer Prisoner.”
Sarah Harrison 46:02
Carolyn Daughters 46:04
I thought this was really interesting. I think this book is one of the best crime novels because it feels so contemporary. The courtroom testimony, the cross-examinations, this idea of people, women, in this case, cheering on the guy who’s accused of murdering his wife. It’s so interesting. I’m watching now the second season of Happy Valley, which is a British procedural. It’s very good. And it’s on Acorn TV. And I won’t spoil really anything except to say that in season two, there’s a convicted criminal who’s a pretty bad guy. And there’s a woman visiting him in prison every day. What do you need me to do? How can I help you? How can I give up my entire life to support you? And this reminded me of the idea that women cheer prisoner and a large crowd of people, including women are near the court hoping to see Doctor Bickleigh. This is 1931, and it felt really contemporary me.
Sarah Harrison 47:27
Yeah. You were mentioning, I think, the way the women were treated in the courtroom as well felt contemporary.
Carolyn Daughters 47:37
Madeleine testifies, and Sir Francis shreds her on the stand.
Sarah Harrison 47:44
But in a gentlemanly way. He lets her shred herself.
Carolyn Daughters 47:50
Had she been thinking about divorce? Had she Denny argued before he died of typhoid? Was she jealous of his past loves? Basically, she’s determined at the end of this testimony to be “notoriously untruthful, malicious and mentally unbalanced.” People are still shredded on the stand in this manner today. A lot about this book felt really modern to me.
Sarah Harrison 48:15
And I don’t know much about the court system. Like, I don’t know, I guess, that had developed by this time. Some of our other books, it didn’t quite feel the same when we were seeing legal transactions, although I’m trying to think. Even like Bleak House. Though Bleak House wasn’t about a murder trial, though. Though it might also be one of the best crime novels.
Carolyn Daughters 48:39
Well, there’s this death, and Jo the child, “he don’t know nothink.” And he’s basically tossed out of the courtroom after being ripped to shreds. We see courtroom scenes in a lot of books we’ve been reading. In your opinion, what is the fascination with the courtroom scene?
Sarah Harrison 49:15
What do you think, honey?
Nate Harrison 49:17
I don’t really know what the fascination is. I mean, because I’m thinking about movies, too. Courtroom scenes are always something prevalent. Maybe there’s just something dramatic about the procedure. Everything is on the record and coming to light. It’s almost as if it’s some kind of show, really. I mean, there’s people outside screaming. I mean, recent courtroom battles, as well. There’s people that wait outside to watch the famous people go into the courtroom. You know, the famous A Few Good Men movie. There’s something really dramatic and fascinating about the courtroom scene. In mystery novels, specifically, I think it’s because everything comes to light. You know, there is nothing hidden in the courtroom. When you say it, it’s on the record. Everyone is watching. I guess that’s why I find it fascinating.
Carolyn Daughters 50:07
There’s a shocker element. Something comes to light, and then suddenly the pin drops kind of thing.
Sarah Harrison 50:18
It almost encompasses twists and turns. It’s like, I’m gonna set this person up. I’m gonna pull the rug out from under him. Cross-examination. I’m gonna put the rug back under them and pull the rug from someone else. It’s all there in one room. You have people just sort of intellectually battling over the mystery. I think our next book is a Perry Mason book, right? Also one of the best crime novels?
Carolyn Daughters 50:43
Definitely. It’s Perry Mason, written by Erle Stanley Gardner. It’s The Case of the Velvet Claws.
Sarah Harrison 50:52
I haven’t read any Perry Mason books, but I used to watch the Perry Mason show a lot as a kid and what it is in my mind is a courtroom. I don’t remember much else except Perry Mason being in the courtroom all the time. So it seems like courtroom scenes are going to even rise to greater prominence in mystery novels and the best crime novels. I don’t know.
Carolyn Daughters 51:13
Do you want to give us a summary?
Sarah Harrison 51:15
Yeah, definitely. So it’s The Case of the Velvet Claws by Erle Stanley Gardner. Published in 1933, it introduces criminal defense lawyer and detective Perry Mason and his secretary, Della Street. Mason is hired by a politician’s wife. To help free her from blackmail, he uncovers a web of deceit, murder, and corruption. The Perry Mason series is among the best crime novels ever written. Learn about The Case of the Velvet Claws at teatonicandtoxin.com. Share your thoughts on our website or on Facebook and Instagram @TeaTonicandToxin. And while you’re there, be sure to subscribe to our podcast. Never miss an episode. Like it, comment it, interact with us, do a poll. Do all of the things.
Carolyn Daughters 52:04
Craft some time out of your day.
Sarah Harrison 52:07
I like to play my podcasts in the car. If you have a commute if you’re driving somewhere, play the podcast.
Nate Harrison 52:15
Exactly. I’ve listened to them on my bike. That’s how I commute.
Sarah Harrison 52:20
That’s how he got a sticker, folks.
Carolyn Daughters 52:22
Yes, it had nothing to do with their marriage. Well, Nate, thank you so much for being a guest!
Nate Harrison 52:32
Thank you for having me. This was a lot of fun.
Carolyn Daughters 52:35
I think this book was very cool. Very worth reading. If you’ve not read it yet, get yourself a copy. I think it’s gonna take you by surprise. It feels super contemporary and definitely belongs among the best crime novels.
Sarah Harrison 52:53
Don’t murder me, honey. If you don’t see me in the next episode, I did not die of natural causes.
Nate Harrison 52:59
Sarah did say that I was the more likely murderer of the two of us.
Sarah Harrison 53:02
You know, when we were talking about why people like Teddy, and I think it’s because he likes people. When I think about Nate, I feel like you’re a person that likes people. That’s an attractive trait. So you could therefore be a murderer.
Nate Harrison 53:23
I do like people. Well, now I see it now. Now I get it. I get it. Nobody become inconvenient to me.
Sarah Harrison 53:31
Yes, exactly. Until next time, listeners, please stay mysterious.
November 19, 2023
Playwright, artistic director, and Renaissance woman Emily Schwartz joins Sarah and Carolyn to dish all things Agatha Christie. On a completely (un)related note, Emily, Sarah, and Carolyn have boarded the Simplon-Orient Express train in search of adventure. Listen in. And stay tuned …Listen →
November 6, 2023
Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters interview Recipes for Murder author Karen Pierce about all things Agatha Christie -- her books, her life, the adaptations of her work. Let’s just say this amazing Christie superfan knows her stuff.Listen →
October 28, 2023
Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters interview detective-fiction devotee, food lover, and Agatha Christie superfan Karen Pierce about her amazing new cookbook, Recipes for Murder. With 66 dishes from Christie's novels, what's not to love?Listen →