Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles
Malice Aforethought is considered 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
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 0:54
Carolyn Daughters 0:55
Sarah Harrison 0:59
We’re very excited about our episode today.
Carolyn Daughters 1:07
It’s this really interesting book that we just read called Malice Aforethought.
Sarah Harrison 1:11
It was wild.
Carolyn Daughters 1:12
By this author I had never heard of. His name is Francis Iles. That’s his pseudonym. His real name is Anthony Berkeley Cox.
Sarah Harrison 1:22
Yeah, I didn’t know who you’re talking about, because I just thought it was Francis Iles. We’re excited to talk about that. But before we do, we want to talk about our sponsor, the fabulous, exciting Carolyn Daughters. She runs game-changing corporate brand therapy workshops, teaches Online Marketing Bootcamp courses and leads. Persuasive Writing Engine workshops. Carolyn empowers startups, small businesses, enterprise organizations, and government agencies to win hearts minds, deals and dollars. You can learn more, and you should, at carolyndaughters.com. Did I say that right? I always think I get Persuasive Writing Engine wrong.
Carolyn Daughters 2:06
Yeah, it’s called Persuasive Writing Engine. The workshops covers the formulas, templates and psychology as to how people persuade other people to understand something, believe something, or, if we’re extremely fortunate and skilled, do something that we want them to do.
Sarah Harrison 2:28
Excellent. Sounds like a dangerous class.
Carolyn Daughters 2:30
It’s extremely dangerous.
Sarah Harrison 2:32
Check it out.
Carolyn Daughters 2:33
It’s super fun. It’s six hours long. And the day of flies by.
Sarah Harrison 2:37
Carolyn Daughters 2:38
Sarah Harrison 2:39
I believe it.
Carolyn Daughters 2:40
It’s fun. It’s interactive. Everybody learns templates and real-world examples of how persuasion works in writing. Sarah, we also have a listener award. Today’s listener award goes to Tracy Gianpicolo from Chicago, Illinois. Now, full disclosure. Tracy is my cousin.
Sarah Harrison 3:12
Oh, hi, Tracy!
Carolyn Daughters 3:13
I had not seen Tracy in 20 or 25 years. But I saw her recently, and what did she say when she saw me? She came to a party that we were throwing in Chicago, and she said guess what my boyfriend and I listened to on the way to the party. Tea Tonic & Toxin.
Sarah Harrison 3:32
Oh, Tracy, you’re the best. We love you!
Carolyn Daughters 3:36
I honestly almost broke out crying. I was so moved by it. I threw my arms around her and said, Tracy, it’s so good to see you! But I thought that was a really sweet thing. As I said, I had not seen her or really talked to her in 20 or more years. She made a point of listening to this podcast on the way to the party. While we’re standing there, she says Oh, I kept telling my boyfriend, this is my cousin Carolyn. That’s Carolyn! It made me feel really special. And I was thrilled, and I feel this listener word rightly goes to Tracy
Sarah Harrison 4:19
Tracy, you deserve every bit of stickiness on this sticker that you’re gonna get.
Carolyn Daughters 4:24
It’s a really cool sticker. We appreciate you for being part of the Tea Tonic & Toxin book club. And if you’d like to get your own on-air shout out and one of these awesome stickers, weigh in on the books we’re reading on our website, teatonicandtoxin.com. Just say hello on any of the pages. We have all of these comment forms and ways that you can communicate with us. You can also comment on our Facebook page @teatonicandtoxin and Instagram page @teatonicandtoxin.
Sarah Harrison 4:55
Yes, folks. You’re listening means the world to us. We get so excited every time we hear about a listener. Actually, we’re now trying to create even more ways to interact. If you listen to us on Spotify, we’re gonna be posting polls and Q&As and more ways that we want to interact with you and know that you’re listening and what you are thinking about. So go on over there and fill those out. Tell us what you think.
Carolyn Daughters 5:28
It is no small exaggeration to say listeners, you mean everything to us. You totally make our day.
Sarah Harrison 5:35
Yeah, it makes our month if you put in a comment that we can talk about related to a book or something. It’s great. We love it.
Carolyn Daughters 5:42
Another thing that we love is when you review us on your podcast software of choice. If you’re using Apple Podcasts, Spotify, wherever you’re listening to Tea Tonic, & Toxin, we’d love that five star review. What it does is it helps other likeminded listeners find us. And as Sarah mentioned, it makes not just our day but our month.
Sarah Harrison 6:01
Yeah, share with all the book nerds you know. Thanks in advance. We have such a great guest today. I’m excited about our guest today. He’s so handsome. Our guest is Nate Harrison.
Carolyn Daughters 6:19
She says that about all our guests.
Sarah Harrison 6:23
He is a geophysicist who works in the field of environmental remediation. He grew up in Palo Alto, California, attended college at UC Davis, and attended graduate school at the University of Montana. Nate has been living in Denver for 16 years now, where he met his wife, me! In addition to geology and environmental work, Nate enjoys hobbies like biking, photography, and his primary interests include being a father to our two wonderful children and working on our house. If you’ve listened to this podcast, you know we’ve been working on our house for a minute,
Carolyn Daughters 7:04
For the last 18 or 19 years, approximately.
Sarah Harrison 7:07
Less 200 years of our lives. Welcome, Nate!
Nate Harrison 7:12
Thank you for having me. I’m so happy to be here. Thank you for letting me see the other side.
Sarah Harrison 7:19
Nate has also won a listener award because he also listens.
Nate Harrison 7:24
And I like and subscribe.
Sarah Harrison 7:27
Great. He has done all the things. He deserves to be here.
Carolyn Daughters 7:32
This month, we’re gonna be talking about Malice Aforethought. I’m going to share a short summary of the book in case you haven’t read it, but you still want to listen in, which is legit. Malice Aforethought 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 toward 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 Madeleine becomes engaged to another man. The premeditated murder initially goes undetected. However, rumors spread the Julia’s death wasn’t accidental, led by a bitter husband of one of Edmund’s ex-lovers. Edmund then poisons both the husband and Madeleine, Scotland Yard investigates, and Edmond 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. It’s literally revealed in paragraph one. 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 our 2023 book selections on our website, teatonicandtoxin.com. So, Nate, tell us what interested you about this book.
Nate Harrison 9:50
Well, unfortunately, that’s really boring because it was mostly about timing. But there are many things about Malice Aforethought that interested me. Once I got started, I was so happy that I picked this one. Especially because the beginning is really funny. I laughed a lot at the description of characters at the party and how people just become these little characters with these defining traits that are sort of hilarious. So I was happy that this one worked out.
Sarah Harrison 10:24
I thought it ended up being an interesting tie in, though. Because we’ve read books where a spouse is murdered, or this or that, or there have been marriages, obviously. But this was the first one I’ve been thinking about where you’re deep in their head. And I was like, Oh, how appropriate that my husband is going to be on the podcast. We’re deep in this guy’s ahead around his marriage, and it’s so fascinating how he’s thinking through all these relationships.
Carolyn Daughters 10:55
Were you thinking that as well, Nate, as you were reading Malice Aforethought? Okay, this guy is plotting the murder of his wife.
Nate Harrison 11:04
The idea of getting inside his head was very much in Malice Aforethought, especially in the second half. You really get behind every thought. He’s very much not honest. There’s always something else going on, in addition to what he’s saying out loud. And he’s very impulsive. Yeah, getting in his head is a little bit scary. It scared me a little because getting so much into this guy makes me a little uncomfortable, because he’s not the most honorable person out there.
Sarah Harrison 11:39
That’s a funny thing, right? Like you said at the beginning, it was funny, and his perspective was funny. And it’s a very amusing book. But by the end, I think, you were saying it was not great being in his head. Like, you don’t like this guy.
Carolyn Daughters 11:57
But the interesting thing is when I started Malice Aforethought, I was inclined to really like him.
Sarah Harrison 12:03
Yeah, I did. I thought he was funny.
Carolyn Daughters 12:06
He seemed deferential. He seemed humble. He seemed like the sort of guy who wants to keep the peace. His wife came across as this haughty, domineering woman, completely unlikable. So right off the bat, I identified with Teddy Bickleigh.
Sarah Harrison 12:24
Yeah, at the beginning, I did too.
Carolyn Daughters 12:26
And then that started destabilizing pretty quickly for me. He and his wife are throwing this tennis party, which sounds delightful. I would like to throw a tennis party.
Sarah Harrison 12:40
Yeah, that in itself was a really interesting.
Carolyn Daughters 12:44
A pickleball party.
Sarah Harrison 12:45
The bathing tent. I was like, what is the bathing tent? But I think it’s just a tent. I think it’s a shade tent or something.
Carolyn Daughters 12:55
Oor maybe it’s where you change or something.
Sarah Harrison 12:57
That’s what I initially thought, but it sounded like people were just going in there and sitting. I could be wrong. And I was puzzled about that. But you were saying about the party …
Carolyn Daughters 13:06
He has this infatuation with one of the most amazing names I’ve heard in a long time. Gwynyfryd.
Sarah Harrison 13:17
Carolyn Daughters 13:18
In case you were wondering if there are any names that have three “y’s,” there there is such a name. It’s called Gwynyfryd. And if you are Gwynyfryd and you want to reach out,
Sarah Harrison 13:27
We’ll send you a sticker.
Carolyn Daughters 13:29
All you have to do is say “my name is Gwynyfryd,” and we will send you a sticker. But Teddy Bickleigh takes Gwynyfryd to the nursery, like plants.
Sarah Harrison 13:39
Yeah, he’s a big gardener.
Nate Harrison 13:42
The roses, especially.
Sarah Harrison 13:44
He has some cuttings for her, like hydrangea cuttings or something like that. In the tool shed.
Carolyn Daughters 13:51
He tries to kiss her. She has been strongly on his mind. We will see what infatuation looks like, of course.
Sarah Harrison 13:59
He says he’s in love with her. And that’s his theme. This is the one woman I should have married.
Nate Harrison 14:08
That’s our first clue into his personality because she actually tells him, “You say that to all the girls.”
Sarah Harrison 14:15
Yeah, she’s totally right.
Carolyn Daughters 14:19
And then Gwynyfryd spurns him, and we start getting into the thoughts in his head. And he does not come across that well. Up until that moment, I was on Team Teddy. And then I see how he interacts with Gwynyfryd, and I thought, Okay, this guy’s not that awesome. I didn’t know how problematic he was going to be. I was set up from the initial pages of Malice Aforethought to think monster = wife, hero = Teddy. And then that destabilizes for me really quickly when he’s in that nursery with Gwynyfryd.
Sarah Harrison 15:05
Yeah, that was the same for me when Gwynyfryd was like, “I would never come between husband and wife.” And he thinks that’s the dumbest comment in the world. He thinks she’s an idiot that she would say that.
Carolyn Daughters 15:18
Yes. Yes, yes.
Nate Harrison 15:20
I have to say I wasn’t really on his side at all, to be honest. I thought he was funny. And it was kind of like watching an accident or a train wreck you can’t take your eyes off of — in a comical way. But I couldn’t really say that I saw him as a hero to the story. It was a bit sad for him, if anything, and then the sadness for him faded away. And I do want to say that I love the names in Malice Aforethought. It’s one of the reasons I was looking forward to reading one of these books is, ooh, what names are we going to get?
Sarah Harrison 15:51
Like, Quarnian is outrageous. We’ve got to talk about Quarnian.
Nate Harrison 15:55
Quarnian, yeah! And she was on Teddy’s side, too. That’s the other thing that helps his case. At the party, there are several or at least a couple of people that are on his side. They feel for him, Quarnian being one of them.
Sarah Harrison 16:08
Quarnian wasn’t on his side, though. No, she’s on the side of gossip. She’s gonna play whoever she’s talking to.
Carolyn Daughters 16:18
I agree with that.
Sarah Harrison 16:19
And it being like, Oh, well, Ivy’s thinks Teddy’s really nice. Quarnian is gonna poke with that. But then, she’ll jump over to the other side in a heartbeat. And she spread a bunch of lies to Teddy and made him go off and just rattle the cages with Ms. Peavy.
Nate Harrison 16:41
Poor Miss Peavy.
Sarah Harrison 16:46
Who actually liked him and he just knocked her around.
Carolyn Daughters 16:49
He storms in there and intimidates her. The full name is Gwynyfryd Rattery.
Nate Harrison 16:59
Carolyn Daughters 17:00
That’s amazing. But my favorite name in Malice Aforethought, even though there are three “y’s” in Gwynyfryd, is Quarnian. Quarnian Torr.
Sarah Harrison 17:11
It’s a name I’ve never heard of in my life. I should have looked it up.
Carolyn Daughters 17:20
We know right off the bat that a murder is going to occur. We know that Teddy, the doctor, is going to be the murderer and that he wants to kill his wife. We know this in the very first paragraph. So let me ask you both, how did you respond to this? Did you read this and think, “I can’t wait to find out how it’s done or why it’s done?” Or did you think, “What am I reading this for? Why are you telling me all this right up front?” How did you feel?
Nate Harrison 17:57
I guess I felt I couldn’t see this guy being capable of murder. How is he ever going to (1) decide he’s going to commit murder and to (2) actually follow through with it? So I guess it did pique my interest in that way.
Sarah Harrison 18:09
I don’t know that I thought anything about it. I just was kind of there for the journey. And looking back on it, it’s such a bizarre journey. My first thought was, Oh, another doctor villain, because we’ve had a few doctor villains. And I think Dorothy Sayers, I’ve read, especially enjoyed doctor villains, like Dr. Julian Freke in the Peter Wimsey book Whose Body? Freke almost had, I would say, a superiority complex. And then here you have Teddy. Everything is rooted in this inferiority complex, guiding his life. So that was just an interesting twist on the doctor theme.
Carolyn Daughters 19:13
The inferiority complex Teddy’s experiencing is a double-edged, right? He feels inferior with men, he feels inferior with women, and he feels inferior with basically any class. But with a perceived upper class, he very much shuts down altogether. But then when he’s off by himself, he feels like superman. He’s the greatest guy in the world. He’s the smartest guy.
Sarah Harrison 19:38
Yeah, Teddy has this fantasy life in Malice Aforethought. That’s so interesting, and I liked that as a touch when the author went into how he goes to sleep every night with some new fantasy vision of the world. But then after he murdered Julia, it almost seemed like something snapped, and he did start thinking of himself in that way. It’s like he’s not a doormat anymore. He’s done with door-matting. He’s like this superman, and it’s almost like he has stepped into his fantasy about himself.
Carolyn Daughters 20:14
He’s no longer a worm. He uses the word doormat, he uses the word warm. Let’s talk for a second about this marriage between Teddy and Julia. Basically, Julia is 10 years is senior, two inches taller. She’s from a wealthier class where things were easy for her growing up. Maybe there wasn’t money, when it was time to marry.
Sarah Harrison 20:44
There was no money, and she hated her family. So I’m not sure if her life was easy, so much, but she had an aristocratic position.
Carolyn Daughters 20:57
She seems to feel that there’s almost a class system in her own home.
Sarah Harrison 21:07
She definitely does.
Carolyn Daughters 21:08
Her grandmother, I think, was a Crewstanton.
Sarah Harrison 21:12
I think you’re right.
Carolyn Daughters 21:17
Her grandmother would never have deigned to sit at table with a doctor, let alone have married one.
Sarah Harrison 21:23
A lowly doctor.
Carolyn Daughters 21:26
Let’s talk about what that marriage has to have felt like. First of all, deciding you want to be in this marriage. Because it’s not as if she was a different person that he romanced and then they got married, and he said, Whoa, there’s a crazy class system happening here. I think he knew what he was getting when he when he got it.
Nate Harrison 21:52
Yes. I think the class system is something that comes up a lot in Malice Aforethought and dominates thought on who people are very much. Wealth and where you come from, your status. This theme keeps coming back. And it’s on Teddy’s mind quite a bit. Certainly it was before he got married.
Sarah Harrison 22:13
Well, like I was saying at the beginning, you feel sorry for Teddy. I could definitely feel sorry for him when I thought he found himself in a loveless marriage. But you go on to find out that this was calculated. He intentionally tried to marry a high society name. And it was almost the fact that they wouldn’t have allowed him to have dinner with them. His grandmother wouldn’t allow him to have dinner with them — this idea was attractive to him. Like, haha! I got in there. I got the name I wanted. It sounds like two adults mutually made a decision.
Carolyn Daughters 22:56
And it’s a weird one. But it’s probably not necessarily an uncommon one.
Sarah Harrison 23:01
Certainly not for the day, I don’t think.
Nate Harrison 23:03
Certainly I don’t know what Teddy’s thoughts were about why he got married or what he thought the marriage was. Julia, we find out, seems on board with the idea of it being a calculated marriage. She seemed very honest about what the marriage was and about who Teddy was. And she didn’t really seem surprised to find out that he had been with other women.
Carolyn Daughters 23:27
That surprised me when we learn she has known about his affairs all along.
Nate Harrison 23:32
She’s very matter of fact about this aspect of the marriage.
Sarah Harrison 23:37
Well, and she’s so pragmatic. I ended up really liking Julia. She’s so pragmatic. When he comes in to ask for a divorce so he can marry Madeleine. She’s like, well, “This isn’t a marriage based on love, and so you would argue there’s no moral ground. And you’d be right. Therefore, I will grant this divorce to you.” She doesn’t delude herself at all. He made a calculated move to get into this marriage with a higher class person than himself. And she made a calculated move to get into a marriage where there was some money and she wouldn’t have to live with her family that she hated.
Carolyn Daughters 24:16
And the narrator tells us this marriage is unconsummated. The narrator tells us these two have never been husband and wife in that way.
Sarah Harrison 24:32
I don’t remember it being never.
Carolyn Daughters 24:35
I believe that the narrator comes right out and says it.We know the marriage is childless, but I believe it’s been completely unaffectionate in every possible form since the start. It has been a business transaction. This is how I’m gonna benefit. Cool. Let’s do this.
Nate Harrison 24:53
But how insulted is Teddy when he finds out that Julia is not upset that he’s been having this affair, when he finally comes clean with it.
Carolyn Daughters 25:01
Did you feel that she was upset?
Nate Harrison 25:03
I did not think she was upset. I feel like she saw it coming and had a way of Well, here’s what we need to do from now on. We can grant the divorce, but here are the circumstances. She was so calm about it. I think that angered Teddy a bit.
Sarah Harrison 25:19
Do you think so? I thought he was pleased with her about it. Why did you think he was angry?
Nate Harrison 25:27
I felt like he he anticipated her reaction to be this traumatic moment. And when he didn’t get that, I think he was let down. But at the same time, he wanted her advice in some strange way.
Sarah Harrison 25:40
Yeah, it says he needed her to solve this problem for him. And he even told Madeleine, “Julia’s not so bad as all that. She’ll understand.” And she did understand.
Nate Harrison 25:50
It’s so odd because he’s in an affair. He’s in love with the woman he’s having an affair with. He doesn’t know what to do with his wife. He really needs some advice. And the most sensible person he knows is his wife. So that’s where he seeks the advice.
Carolyn Daughters 26:01
I thought that was incredible, too. That quote is in our million pages of notes on Malice Aforethought. We have a lot of papers in front of us, and we like to flip through them during the podcast. One of the quotes is when he says, “Well, I’ve got to run this by Julia. She’s the one I run every I everything by.” In some ways when he kills his wife, he loses the person who can talk sense into him, or who has the most rational input on any idea that he’s considering.
Sarah Harrison 26:44
That is where he becomes unhinged and starts seeing himself as his delusional self. That was interesting, too. I was thinking about this concept, even at the beginning. You get this weird mix, and maybe you want to talk about this from a literary standpoint, Carolyn, but it’s this interesting mix of being in Teddy’s head with the narrator’s commentary. And so you’re going back and forth between the two, and they’re just really blended. But at one point, the narrator’s like “Julia, knowing her husband, …” And you do find out that she knows him. She knows him, and she knows exactly what he’s like. And she doesn’t think very highly of him. And I think she’s right. That’s an interesting thing. I feel like as a human race, we tend to feel like if they only knew me, or once we really know each other, or there’s something about knowing another individual that creates empathy and gets you on their level. Except when it doesn’t. You really know them, and you’re like, “this person is terrible.” And that seems to be the case with Julia. She really knows him, and she knows he’s a little crap ball.
Carolyn Daughters 28:11
Just to be fair, she’s not an amazing person.
Sarah Harrison 28:13
She’s not amazing, but she’s not awful either.
Nate Harrison 28:16
Well, she’s amazing in that she has a talent for reading people because I will say that the one moment where I saw Julia as being kind of awesome is when she went and confronted Madeleine and just sized her up in one meeting and knew exactly who she was. And that I thought was pretty awesome because she really nailed this character. Teddy is sort of lost in his own mind. He’s in love. He doesn’t see Madeleine at all as his wife does. But Julia nailed it.
Carolyn Daughters 28:45
He’s delusional, and Julia sees right through Madeleine, which the reader does also. Did you both feel that?
Nate Harrison 28:54
I did, absolutely.
Sarah Harrison 28:58
I was sort of with Julia at the beginning, except for the narrator’s commentary. Madeleine arrives, and she has these terrifically earnest eyes. But the way the narrator describes it, you know something’s going to be up with Madeleine. But even Julia was taking in at the tennis party, and she’s like, “Alright, if it’s a woman like Madeleine Cranmere, I will grant you the divorce. But then Julia finds out Madeleine is just a shyster.
Nate Harrison 29:27
Based on what she wears, which is fascinating. Who would wear such a plaid coat?
Carolyn Daughters 29:32
Madeleine is very dowdily dressed. She’s nondescript looking. She’s not the sort of person who excites the imagination, according to Teddy, and when he sees her at his own tennis party, he’s not interested in her at all.
Nate Harrison 29:47
No, he’s still clouded by thoughts of Gwynyfryd at the time. Gwynyfryd Rattery. I love the names in Malice Aforethought.
Carolyn Daughters 30:02
This marriage is so interesting to me. Increasingly as Julia is being poisoned, as she’s coming up closer, closer, closer to her death, I started feeling more for her, more and more and more. And I started increasingly thinking, okay, Teddy can’t win me back over. And, as I said, in the first pages I was sort of in Teddy’s camp. I didn’t think he was the greatest guy ever, but I thought, okay, this guy is beleaguered. He’s completely emotionally battered by his wife. But by the time where Julia is being poisoned by him, I’m increasingly in her camp.
Sarah Harrison 30:56
Definitely. I got to where I liked Julia so well, but I already knew from the beginning of Malice Aforethought he was going to murder her. I was like, really? Does he have to? Is he really gonna kill her. It became a little uncomfortable to keep reading through it. What do you think, Nate?
Nate Harrison 31:15
Being uncomfortable reading through it, absolutely. Being in Teddy’s head, especially as the slow death went on. And he has these moments of odd sympathy for his dying wife, which. I mean, what is happening, because he’s the one doing it. And yet, he still finds a way to be sympathetic and think, Oh, she doesn’t deserve this. I’m glad It’ll be over soon. It’s really hard to be in that guy’s head. Because you used the word “delusional.” He has these thoughts of himself and the thought of this idea of himself just comes to the forefront of his thoughts and makes him who he really believes him to be. Such as when he’s in court and considering himself to not be a liar.
Carolyn Daughters 31:59
Nate, would you read a few of these quotes, where we see Dr. Bickleigh responding to what he’s doing to his own wife?
Nate Harrison 32:10
Sure. So here’s the first one. “In his duties, he had put away plenty of pet animals who had passed their usefulness. Now, the time had come to put Julia away.” Which is fascinating, because I’ve watched the show Dexter, and apparently serial killers usually start with animals. That’s the thought I had when I was reading Malice Aforethought. So here’s another one. “Julia was really a most exceptional woman. It was a pity, though, I thought her husband with real regret that she had got to die.” I’m shaking my head a little bit as I read these quotes. “Dr. Bickleigh felt for Julia very strongly. Her drawn face and dulled eyes quite upset him. It was terrible that Julia should have to suffer like this entirely through her own obstinacy. The sooner he was able to put her out of her pain, the better.”
Sarah Harrison 33:03
Entirely her fault.
Nate Harrison 33:06
Entirely her own fault.
Carolyn Daughters 33:08
So, what’s happening here? Who is this guy?
Sarah Harrison 33:15
I wanted to ask you guys that. You mentioned I think in the notes, the psychological aspect of Malice Aforethought. Malice Aforethought is maybe the most deeply psychological book we’ve read so far. How believable did you find Teddy? Did you find the way the author was presenting Teddy as believable? Did it really seem true, or did it seem like this can’t be real? What did you guys think about that?
Nate Harrison 33:40
I don’t know. It’s hard for me to really think of him as believable. I guess I am one to get lost in the story and just take it as it comes. I still see the characters as characters. I don’t know.
Sarah Harrison 33:53
So then it worked for you, then, right?
Nate Harrison 33:55
It worked for me, and then I was in it, but I don’t know if I would say “believable” as a real human. I certainly think there are psychological aspects of Teddy that are absolutely believable in that people can see themselves as they’d like to be. I don’t know, like you can have a fantasy of yourself. Teddy always thought of himself as a cricket champion. But if you know let your mind wander. You know, what if I became a great author one day or something, you can make yourself feel a little bit better at the end of that. Which is sort of odd if you just have a thought. I feel like Teddy really ran with it in a way that is hard to understand completely. But it’s believable, I guess.
Carolyn Daughters 34:40
It’s like he kept going a little bit further, a little bit further, and then started seeing there was possibility for this dreamlike state he thought he was going to enter. Madeleine Cranmere is his obsession. We readers can see that she’s not that into him. But he can’t see it. And so he’s plotting this entire scenario whereby he gets rid of his wife and he’s able to marry Madeleine. Madeleine has money. Madeleine adores him. Madeleine is sycophantic. She knows more about art than he does. But when he talks about art, she fawns over him, as if every word out of his mouth is genius. It’s this dream relationship for him, which is an inverted relationship from what he currently has with his wife, Julia. He starts building these castles. It’s this stair-step progression, I think.
Sarah Harrison 35:47
It was really interesting the way an obsession starts in the mind. You start with this obsession or this predisposition to have obsessions, and then you start obsessing about a thing, and then it just grows and you make a reality out of it. I do think that’s a kind of true-ish progression in a lot of instances. That’s what we as humans do.
Carolyn Daughters 36:15
The author Anthony Berkeley Cox wrote under the pseudonym Francis Iles. The author was more interested in psychology than plot. He really wanted to know why a murderer was inspired to murder and what led him to commit this act. With Agatha Christie, we have all these potential murderers, and one of them will be unmasked at the end. He says, what if I unmask the murderer in paragraph one? What if I tell you what’s about to happen? And then we have to figure out why this is gonna happen, and how, and does he get away with it? This is pretty new what he’s doing in Malice Aforethought. He’s playing with the form.
Nate Harrison 37:17
Yeah, it’s really interesting. And it really worked. Like I said it before, I was in it to find out how this guy actually makes this decision to kill his wife. So it’s interesting that Anthony Berkeley Cox started this form. I didn’t know that. It worked, I think. I think we see other authors doing it these days, too.
Carolyn Daughters 37:33
There are many books now that tell you right on page one, this is the murder that was committed. And then you’re led to try to figure out why in the world this murder was committed. And what happens as a result — do the murderers get caught? You’re not reading for what happens, you’re reading for why and how.
Sarah Harrison 38:00
Do you have a preference? Like the puzzles versus the psychological pathways?
Carolyn Daughters 38:07
I like the combination. A lot of authors like Elizabeth George, a contemporary author, combine the two elements at least from the detective’s standpoint. The detective is trying to figure out what is happening, and you get into the psychology of character, and you also get into plot and motive and opportunity. We get a little bit of that in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
Sarah Harrison 38:37
Oh, yeah, that’s true.
Carolyn Daughters 38:46
In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, we’re sort of in the narrator’s head, but he edits himself. Every time he almost reveals something we need to know, he edits his narrative. But if you go back and reread the book, you can pick up on what’s going on.
Sarah Harrison 39:11
Yeah, it was like screaming off the page the second time.
Carolyn Daughters 39:15
Whereas Malice Aforethought is screaming off the page the first time you read it. Complicated marriage, fantasy relationship. Let’s talk about Madeleine Cranmere. What’s her deal?
Sarah Harrison 39:39
She’s a really good listener.
Nate Harrison 39:43
Why do you say that?
Sarah Harrison 39:44
That’s her secret. That’s why she gets in. Davies, I think, was also in love with her. Denny falls in love with her. She just listens to people and whatever. She asks their advice about stuff. Not because she’s gonna take their advice or do it, and not because it means anything to her. But she’s gonna ask their advice. What do you think I should do about my septic system? I have no idea? And whatever these men are saying about art or about anything, she’s just listening, rapt with attention. And these attention-starved characters just eat it up. They fall in love with her.
Carolyn Daughters 40:30
Madeleine feels pseudo-modern because she lives by herself at the Hall. Throwback. When she’s talking art, for example, she and Teddy both determine they like the Old Masters. “We don’t like the moderns.” It almost feels like she’s spurning anything that is modern, and she’s very deferential. One of the reasons Teddy likes her so much is she seems different than Julia and from more contemporary women who might be more assertive.
Sarah Harrison 41:05
Different from Quarnian. That was another thing that felt very present day was the way Madeleine would knock her peers. She would say, “I’m not like most girls. I’m this different kind of girl.” Have you seen that? It’s like a whole thing now on the internet, girls who think they’re not like other girls.
Carolyn Daughters 41:26
How are they not like other girls?
Sarah Harrison 41:29
A million ways, Carolyn. Google “not like other girls.” You guys haven’t heard of this theme? Oh man, there are so many like Instagram posts where “I’m not like other girls.” I wear boots. I drive trucks. I don’t gossip. I don’t wear makeup. I do wear makeup. Whatever.
Carolyn Daughters 41:53
But you are like other girls and boys. When you talk about yourself nonstop on social media.
Nate Harrison 41:59
Yeah, no one else does that.
Sarah Harrison 42:00
It’s the concept of presenting yourself as different and special from your peers. That’s still like, major social media fodder today.
Carolyn Daughters 42:14
To what degree do you all see Madeleine as complicit in this confusion that Teddy has over his relationship with her? Oh, yes, let’s run away together! Oh, no, we can’t ever be together. Oh, yes, let’s see each other Thursday. Oh, no, I’m busy on Thursday. How did you see her? Did she just seem like a young, flighty person? How did she come across to you both?
Nate Harrison 42:48
The latter, the young, flighty person.
Sarah Harrison 42:50
Nate Harrison 42:50
I guess that’s how I saw her because of the fact that she is has this flirtation with Teddy. She never tells him that she also has an interest in anyone else. If anything, she downplays the amount of time that she spends with Denny. And then at one point, when she finally decides to marry Denny, she just has Denny go tell Teddy, and she hides in her bedroom. So that’s why I saw her as a bit on the immature and flighty side. I was fooled at the beginning because she seemed so with it the way that she won everyone over at the party, even though she was late. At first, everyone looked down on her for living alone. But she won everyone over right away with this personality that she has, and I thought that sounded very mature. But as time went on, I thought, no, I think she doesn’t really know what she’s doing.
Sarah Harrison 43:37
Oh, that’s funny. I thought it was totally calculating.
Nate Harrison 43:39
Really? Tell me why.
Sarah Harrison 43:41
Not only 100% calculated in that instance, I’m like, how did you get your wealth, girl? Have you murdered other wealthy husbands in the past?
Nate Harrison 43:50
I really thought we were gonna take a turn towards murderer, but, yeah, go ahead.
Sarah Harrison 43:54
Definitely. I still feel 100% sure. As soon as Denny came down with typhoid, I was like, oh, she stole Teddy’s plan and poisoned her own husband.
Nate Harrison 44:06
I totally thought the same thing.
Carolyn Daughters 44:07
There were only two poisoned sandwiches, right, one for Chatford and one for Madeleine.
Sarah Harrison 44:12
Yeah, Denny was fine when they were all sick. Because Teddy is such an idiot, he still didn’t think Madeleine did it. He’s like, I told her she should have fixed her septic. And I was like, no, dude, she poisoned her husband on purpose.
Carolyn Daughters 44:28
I thought maybe it was a septic because, Chekhov’s gun, right? You don’t mention something early on, unless it comes back into play later in the story. And so early on, he talks about how filthy the Hall is.
Sarah Harrison 44:40
I think she’s a husband murderer. She totally used that. Because here’s the thing — if your water is infected by typhoid, it’s not just Denny that would get it. She would get it, too.
Nate Harrison 44:53
Well, when I read Malice Aforethought, I thought along the same lines as Carolyn, that it was typhoid from the Hall that got Denny. But I guess I want it to be Sarah’s idea.
Sarah Harrison 45:04
She’s playing them all, she’s so calculated.
Nate Harrison 45:08
I would love that Madeleine ended up being a murderer and then got Teddy charged with murder. That’s so great.
Carolyn Daughters 45:15
She had motive. She wanted him dead. She was over over this marriage. They had been fighting.
Sarah Harrison 45:20
He wanted to divorce her.
Nate Harrison 45:21
Murder was going around, like typhoid.
Sarah Harrison 45:25
He had money, but she did, too. And he had a title. So she got to keep that, she can just rake it in.
Nate Harrison 45:33
I want her to be the murderer.
Sarah Harrison 45:35
I think she’s completely calculated.
Carolyn Daughters 45:38
Francis Iles should have written a follow up about the murder of Denny. We could have learned how Madeleine did it. I hadn’t thought about murdering my husband until the opportunity presented itself, after the poisoning of these two potted meats. What is potted meat? Sarah, you must know because you’ve researched all the food.
Sarah Harrison 45:58
It’s just canned meat. I think I have seen potted meat in grocery stores. I do remember that sort of thing sticks in my mind. But you know, it’s I think it’s like …
Carolyn Daughters 46:11
Like a can of chicken or something? Or tuna?
Sarah Harrison 46:15
But potted meat is almost just like a hot dog consistency, ike a spread, like a meat spread?
Carolyn Daughters 46:23
Like a pate.
Sarah Harrison 46:24
Yeah, kinda like that. I think so. We’re gonna look it up. We’re gonna look it up, folks, because we’re gonna have a Christmas party with themed recipes from the books we’ve read.
Carolyn Daughters 46:35
About half of which I won’t be interested in tasting.
Sarah Harrison 46:38
You know there’s going to be potted meat sandwiches there. And we will try not to accidentally put typhoid or botulism on them. Either one.
Carolyn Daughters 46:47
Right. We’re down with the tea and the tonic, but not the toxin.
Sarah Harrison 46:54
Yeah, I think it’s just like a canned meat spread.
Carolyn Daughters 46:59
What happens is Teddy hosts this little gathering, where Madeleine, her husband, Denny, and Ivy’s husband, Chatford, come over for tea. For some unbeknownst reason, these three people have tea at his house.
Sarah Harrison 47:21
Teddy totally arranged it. He arranged it. He’s like, hey, Chatford, I need to discuss business with you. I mean, as soon as Chatford agreed to come over, Teddy is like, Madeleine, I want to bury the hatchet. Let’s have tea together.
Carolyn Daughters 47:35
I want to bury the hatchet. Why don’t you have food and beverage at my home under my control. It will be lovely. There will be very little harm. So they join him for tea. And he serves them poisoned botulism?
Sarah Harrison 47:57
He thought … so this was hilarious. He thought he was feeding them botulism, but he screwed it up and he fed them typhoid instead.
Carolyn Daughters 48:07
This is why I need the scientists Sarah and Nate. Because I’m reading this, and I’m lost in what he’s doing and how.
Sarah Harrison 48:18
He had a botulism case.
Carolyn Daughters 48:22
Sarah Harrison 48:23
So he saved some of whatever he could from that botulism case where the kid died.
Nate Harrison 48:28
It’s a bacteria, right, that he saved?
Sarah Harrison 48:30
I think so, yeah. So, in Malice Aforethought, Teddy got this incubator to try and grow more of it, not realizing that that doesn’t grow botulism. It actually killed all the botulism and grew something else, mostly something in the typhoid strain. He thought he was putting botulism on the sandwich, but then he was putting typhoid on the sandwich. And so he walks in. And that’s what was so weird at the end. And the doctor was la little bit baffled by him. Because Teddy walks in, and he’s like, “Without doing any examination whatsoever, I think it’s botulism, because that’s what I had.” And then when they review all the evidence, and they look at all the capsule, and they look at the incubator, there’s no botulism there. It was kind of a little idiot mistake, but it saved him in some ways, because then they’re like, “Well, he clearly thought it was botulism.”
Carolyn Daughters 49:26
It’s terrible when you’re trying to kill people with botulism and you end up with just typhoid.
Sarah Harrison 49:33
Carolyn Daughters 49:37
There were, I think, two poisoned potted meat sandwiches. Chadford and Madeleine each take one of these little sandwiches. I don’t think Denny had a poisoned sandwich. Wow, I hadn’t thought about this, but we now need the backstory of how Madeleine decided to kill her husband at the tea party hosted by my ex-boyfriend, Dr. Teddy Bickleigh.
Sarah Harrison 50:08
Well, she comes out of nowhere, she comes out of nowhere determined to live alone and has a lot of money. Why? Because this is how she lived her life. It’s totally calculated. There’s a certain personality type that likes to string people along. And she certainly seems to find that to be one of her hobbies.
Nate Harrison 50:30
So after getting married, she regretted getting married. And she went towards the murder route since murder was going around like typhoid.
Sarah Harrison 50:38
Denny wanted to divorce her. That wasn’t what she wanted. She didn’t want to be a divorced person or marry a divorced person. So she just like took a page from that book and said, “I could do that better.”
Carolyn Daughters 50:53
Interesting. That didn’t occur to me until this conversation. I just assumed the Hall was filthy.
Sarah Harrison 50:59
I was like waiting for it. Like, when is she going on trial for murdering her husband, holy cow. And then when Teddy got convicted of it at the end, I was like, what?
Nate Harrison 51:08
I still don’t understand why he was convicted for murdering Denny when he was found innocent of attempted murder for Chadford and Madeleine. Because Denny got sick later. And Teddy was already found innocent of those attempts. I don’t know how Teddy got convicted for killing Denny.
Carolyn Daughters 51:25
I think they did what they could to get him convicted. That was my take.
Sarah Harrison 51:30
That’s what I wondered. What did you guys make about the end? What do you think of it?
Nate Harrison 51:35
I was confused.
Carolyn Daughters 51:37
I was confused as well. But the way I looked at it is, Path A failed, so Path B is any means necessary. Here’s another death. Let’s point the finger at Dr. Bickleigh.
Sarah Harrison 51:53
So you feel like that was calculated on behalf of the police, that the did that? Because that was actually very interesting. They had the case perfectly figured out. They had all the pieces in place. But he didn’t get convicted somehow. And then he did. I couldn’t figure out exactly what it all meant. I was like, is this just some interesting conversation about karma? Is this actually some kind of critique of the justice system and its massive bungles. What is happening? I mean, I’m glad he hung. Is this Madeleine winning again, because Madeleine always wins in the end. She poisoned her husband and got Bickleigh convicted for it.
Carolyn Daughters 52:52
I don’t know that there was necessarily a moral to the story in Malice Aforethought, per se. But you can make the karma or moral responsibility argument at the end, that he got his just due. He got it in a strange, roundabout way, but he got it. I think about this sometimes when there’s a terrible criminal in prison. And then we learn that somebody else in the prison harms him or her, or kills him or her.
Sarah Harrison 53:25
[Sound of a car alarm in the background] Ignore that, listener.
Carolyn Daughters 53:33
This sound is on your end, listener. It’s not happening here.
Sarah Harrison 53:36
Go check your your car. Check your car, listener.
Nate Harrison 53:41
It’s not my car, is it?
Carolyn Daughters 53:46
I don’t even know what I was talking about.
Nate Harrison 53:48
Well, the ending of Malice Aforethought made me think about Al Capone. Because he went to prison for tax evasion. And he died in prison. I think he was murdered in prison, wasn’t he? I think he may have been.
Sarah Harrison 53:58
Probably. I don’t know.
Carolyn Daughters 53:59
But I don’t have sympathy, maybe as a human being should. If I were more evolved as a human being, maybe I would. But if a very terrible criminal in prison is killed by another inmate, sometimes I think, okay, well, there you go. What’s done is done.
Sarah Harrison 54:17
Carolyn Daughters 54:18
Yes. Whereas, maybe I should think about it differently. But here, it seemed like they just got him anyway they can get him they got. They went the Al Capone route.
Sarah Harrison 54:30
Yeah, they got him on a lesser something that he in this case wasn’t even remotely guilty of. If Denny died through happenstance, if Denny really died from the sewage system, I’d be fine with it. But since I actually think Madeleine murdered him, I’m like, well, when is she going down for all this? It’s just fine that Teddy got taken out. But when is her just dessert coming?
Nate Harrison 55:04
I guess there is a parallel there between the way that Madeleine portrayed herself and her relationship with Teddy and her relationship with her husband. She claimed on in court under oath that they never fought.And so I guess there is this parallel of the way that she sees herself, too, as being this innocent person who was seduced by an older man and was in this perfect marriage.
Sarah Harrison 55:27
Do you think she’s actually delusional? Or was she just lying and putting on a facade? Because I feel like Bickleigh is very delusional.
Nate Harrison 55:38
I don’t know. I do think Dr. Bickleigh is delusional.
Carolyn Daughters 55:46
I want to talk more about this. We’re going to do a second podcast episode about Malice Aforethought. And I want to talk more about how people, in particular women, were treated on the stand in court. It felt really contemporary to me the way the attorney gently and kindly leads Madeleine down a path only to get her caught up in her own web of lies and then basically starts attacking her from every direction.
Sarah Harrison 56:35
Well, listeners, I hope you’ll join us for our next episode on Malice Aforethought. The handsome Nate Harrison will join us for another episode.
Nate Harrison 56:45
As long as you keep calling me handsome, I’ll be good.
Sarah Harrison 56:47
You can’t leave, because you have my car.
Nate Harrison 56:54
Or we don’t have a car anymore, perhaps.
Carolyn Daughters 56:58
That’s also possible. Be sure to share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Instagram, or our website teatonicandtoxin.com. Subscribe so you never miss an episode, and please give us a five star rating!
Sarah Harrison 57:13
Or fill out a poll, answer a question on Spotify, and, above all, 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 →
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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 →