Malice Aforethought

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Malice Aforethought
First edition
Author Anthony Berkeley
writing as Francis Iles
Country England
Language English
Genre Crime novel
Publisher Gollancz
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Followed by Before the Fact

Malice Aforethought (1931) is a murder mystery 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[edit]

The central character is a Devon physician, Dr. Bickleigh, who is in an unhappy marriage to a domineering wife, Julia. Initially he has some hopes of divorcing Julia and marrying a younger woman, Madeleine, who he is flirting with. However his hopes of divorce fade, and he uses his medical knowledge to murder Julia, to marry Madeleine. His method is a devious and some would say unusually cruel one: he slowly feeds her a chemical which gives her blinding headaches, which leads to her taking opium painkillers, so that she apparently dies of an accidental overdose of opium. He appears to get away with it, but one person who suspects the truth is Madeleine, who marries another man, and some people in the local community wrongly suspect that Julia committed suicide because of problems in their marriage. As Dr. Bickleigh realizes that Madeleine suspects what happened he attempts to poison her and her new husband; they survive, but this leads the authorities to become suspicious about the death of Julia some time earlier. Her body is exhumed and Dr. Bickleigh is put on trial for her murder.


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 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.