Sunday, July 8, 2012

H is for Cyril Hare

I am featuring two mysteries by Cyril Hare in this post for the Crime Fiction Alphabet for 2012.  Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for the letter H.

There are several vintage mystery authors that I read years ago, and I am coming back to read them again now. Rex Stout, Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers, Elizabeth Daly, Josephine Tey, Patricia Wentworth, George Bagby, Agatha Christie, Earl Stanley Gardner, Georgette Heyer, Michael Innes, Nicholas Blake.

Cyril Hare was also one of my favorites and I still have copies of all his books. In the last two weeks, I have re-read two of Cyril Hare's mysteries: An English Murder and With a Bare Bodkin.

Brief biography of Cyril Hare at Fantastic Fiction:
Cyril Hare was the pseudonym of Judge Gordon Clark. Born at Mickleham near Dorking in 1900, he was educated at Rugby and New College, Oxford. At the bar his practice was largely in the criminal courts. During the Second World War he was on the staff of the Director of Public Prosecutions; but later, as a County Court judge, his work concerned civil disputes only - and his sole connection with crime was through his fiction. He turned to writing detective stories at the age of thirty-six and some of his first short stories were published in Punch. Hare went on to write a series of detective novels. He died in 1958.
Several of Hare's books (there were only nine mystery novels and some collections of short stories), center around interests or areas where Hare had experience: the law, his work for the government during World War II, music, history. For example, When the Wind Blows (or as The Wind Blows Death in the UK) is about the murder of a member of the Markhampton Orchestral Society.

I read With a Bare Bodkin first. I remember it as one of my favorite mysteries by Hare. Another drawing factor was the setting. During World War II, Francis Pettigrew, a barrister, is sent to the seaside resort of Marsett Bay, where the Pin Control Ministry has been relocated. This book has some elements of romantic involvements, which I found appealing but is not unanimously liked by other readers. With a Bare Bodkin was not the first book to feature Pettigrew. That was Tragedy at Law, described by Cyril Hare as his personal favorite. Both books also feature another series character, Inspector Mallet.

An English Murder is the only mystery novel by Hare which did not feature either Inspector Mallet or Francis Pettigrew. The setting is a country house, Warbeck Hall, and the mystery features the elements of country house mysteries that I enjoy. Class differences are explored. The servants are important characters (in this case there is only one servant and the Hall is in ill-repair due to lack of funds).

I liked this summary at Olman's Fifty:
An excellent, tight little mystery. I enjoyed it on many levels. The pacing and writing are excellent. The dialogue of the butler is particularly enjoyable. The mystery itself is actually solvable by the reader, not easily but in the sense that the author doesn't try to trick or misdirect you. I like to be part of the process when I read a classic murder mystery and I certainly felt that way. I didn't entirely figure it out, though, so the mystery was interesting right up until the end. Finally, it is all wrapped around history and the fading of the British aristocracy in a way that gives it depth. Highly recommended.

The Cozy Mystery List blog has a nice review here, which actually pointed me to this book as one I would like to re-read.

I don't know that my sampling represents the best of Cyril Hare's mysteries. Some fans prefer others.  The first three novels star only Inspector Mallet. Suicide Excepted gets high praise, but many critics felt the mysteries improved with the addition of Pettigrew. As William L. DeAndrea puts it in Encyclopedia Mysteriosa:
With the start of the Pettigrew series, Hare's work reflected more of his legal background and contained greater depth of characterization.
Here is a list by date published, indicating the series characters involved:
    Tenant for Death (1937)  [Inspector Mallet]
    Death Is No Sportsman (1938)  [Inspector Mallet]
    Suicide Excepted  (1939)  [Inspector Mallet]
    Tragedy at Law  (1942)  [Inspector Mallet and Francis Pettigrew]
    With a Bare Bodkin (1946)  [Inspector Mallet and Francis Pettigrew]
    The Wind Blows Death
           (aka When the Wind Blows, 1949)  [Inspector Mallet and Francis Pettigrew]
    An English Murder  (aka The Christmas Murder, 1951)
    Death Walks the Woods  (aka That Yew Tree’s Shade, 1954)  [Francis Pettigrew]
    Untimely Death
           (aka He Should Have Died Hereafter, 1958)  [Inspector Mallet and Francis Pettigrew]


Anonymous said...

Tracy - Oh, this is a good choice for H. A lot of people aren't familiar with Hare's work; he doesn't always get the press that some of his contemporaries do. I think it's time I rediscover him...

Peggy Ann said...

I have never heard of Hare but I have added your list to my wishlist and will be on the look out for him! thanks for a great post Tracy!

Bev Hankins said...

I love Hare! I've read all of his--but still need to collect a couple to have a complete set. Glad to see you highlight him! Here's my Letter H.

neer said...

Never heard of this author but he seems interesting. An English Murder seems just like my cup of tea :).

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Nice post TracyK, it's been ages since I read any Hare. When I was studying law in the 80s I remember seeing them out and TRAGEDY AT LAW is the one I remember liking the most, but I was probably reading them with a slightly skewed perspective - I'll definitely see about getting my hands on a few and re-reading them.