Malice Aforethought  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

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

Plot summary

Edmund Bickleigh, a physician with a modest rural practice, is in a loveless marriage with the domineering childless Julia, He consoles himself with young unmarried women, in particular the accommodating Ivy. In his village arrives Madeleine, a rich young woman, who succumbs to his attentions but warns she will not marry him if he divorces. Reasoning that she will however marry him if he is a widower, he cruelly starts to poison Julia. To relieve her increasing pain he gives her increasing doses of morphine, until she dies miserably.

Madeleine then rejects him, to marry a wealthy young man, while the rejected Ivy also marries a well-off lawyer. Rumours start spreading that Julia's death was not accidental, fuelled by the antagonism towards Edmund of Madeleine's husband and Ivy's husband, who both bitterly resent that he was the seducer of their wives. Attempting to stop the gossip, Edmund poisons both men and Madeleine as well, though only Madeleine's husband dies. Not unaware of the rumours and the suspicious deaths, the police investigate and Edmund is put on trial. Acquitted of murdering his unfortunate wife, a second trial convicts him for the death of Madeleine's husband and he is executed.


The novel has been adapted for television twice.

The first was a four-part serial by the BBC in 1979, starring Hywel Bennett as Dr. Bickleigh, Cheryl Campbell as Madeleine, and Judy Parfitt as Julia. It later aired in 1981 when it was featured in the US PBS series, Mystery!, introduced by Vincent Price.

A second adaptation Malice Aforethought, starring Ben Miller as Dr. Bickleigh, Megan Dodds as Madeleine, and Barbara Flynn as Julia, was produced by Granada Television and broadcast on ITV in 2005. It too has been shown on Mystery! in 2005.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Malice Aforethought" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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