From the dustjacket: “This is the surprising story of a lawyer, his client, and a blonde. One of them has already committed a murder and another is going to. Murder is in the air from the first page. The reader has more information at his disposal than is really sporting. Actually Hull lets you help commit murder (and in fact you’ll want to).”
Synopsis: The personal journal of lawyer Dick Sampson details his criminal involvement with professional scoundrel Alan Renwick. Renwick appears on the doorstep of his fusty solicitor asking for help: Sampson soon learns that his client has resolved the problem of a blackmailing valet by beating him to death. Although professing to despise Renwick – a matter of protesting too much? – Sampson agrees to hide the fugitive, taking great secret pleasure in stripping Renwick of his power and bravado due to his compromised circumstances.
Sampson tells Renwick that he can only be a free man if he fakes his death, thus absolving him from the penalty of murder. The lawyer then launches an elaborate plan to help his “friend” meet his “demise”. First, Renwick is to forge his own will, leaving his estate to his solicitor (the better for Sampson to give a dead man access to his money). Next, a suitable river is chosen to give the appearance that the distraught Renwick took his own life. Soon the evening arrives for the fugitive to make his midnight swim. Both Mrs. Kilner and Mrs. Farleigh insist on being part of the plan, but despite – or because of – the detailed arrangements, tragedy ensues. As the chain of events tightens a noose around Dick Sampson’s throat, he must remain one step ahead of suspicious inspectors, vengeful lovers, and curious clerks in order to stay alive.
Review: This inverted mystery, meaning that the reader knows the murderer’s identity from the start, benefits from some creative structural inspirations. For one, although we know from the first chapter who killed Baynes the blackmailing valet, this is just the inciting incident that starts the real conflict: who will survive the battle of wits between lawyer/protector and client/criminal? Hull nicely keeps the heat on his antihero Sampson – a satiric nod, as it’s the real name of the accountant-turned-author who wrote this book – by creating potential dangers and betrayals from all sides, most notably from the two women he is reluctantly forced to conspire with, and from the murderer-in-hiding himself.
Characterization is uncommonly good. The narrator comes across as a petty sadist who takes pleasure in watching others squirm; his chronicle of the events, which we are reading as a journal, both moves along the suspense plot and serves as a testament to the character’s over-inflated ego. His nemesis Alan Renwick doesn’t fare any better, and Hull/Sampson provides evidence of the man’s penchant for following cruelties with amiable kindnesses, a trait that has quite believably netted at least two female admirers. As for Anna Kilner and Mrs. Farleigh, both are drawn with an engaging amount of sympathy, despite their poor judgment in supporting a criminal like Renwick. Of the two, Mrs. Farleigh fares better, possessing both romantic altruism and an admirable sensibility that the younger, less clear-headed Mrs. Kilner lacks.
Richard Hull’s crime novels are always based on an imaginative premise or presented using a unique structure. While his creativity is to be commended, some of his tales are simply stronger than others. My Own Murderer is a successful little book. Despite having gotten ahead of the plotline as a reader, and despite not quite believing the unbelievable sequence of events that unfold, this is an ambitious, enjoyable entry from an author who consistently tries to deliver the unconventional while working within the traditional mystery genre.