Friday 23 January 2009

Forgotten Book - Tragedy at Law

Discussion about great opening lines in crime novels is common enough. But what about great last lines? A number spring to mind, but I don’t want to include spoilers. One of the best, though, crops up in Cyril Hare’s Tragedy at Law – and it must be one of the most original. I thought I'd include it in Patti Abbott's series Friday's Forgotten Books, but I do hope that at least those who have read it haven't forgotten it.

Tragedy at Law, first published in 1942, is in fact full of good things. I was drawn to it as a law student by high praise from Michael Gilbert and Henry Cecil, and I was certainly not disappointed. It’s a brilliant and unusual detective story, in which the murder is committed quite late in the book. But interest is maintained throughout, because of the evocative description of the life of an English circuit judge, Sir William Hereward Barber, coupled with acute characterisation and Hare’s good ear for dialogue.

The novel features Hare’s police detective Inspector Mallett, but also introduced the unlucky barrister, Francis Pettigrew. Pettigrew proved to be such an effective and appealing amateur sleuth that Hare wisely decided to bring him back for further adventures.

Cyril Hare died all too young. He was Faber and Faber’s star detective novelist, and when they were casting around for a successor, they had the good fortune to receive a manuscript from a new writer called P.D. James. The rest is history. But I was delighted to see that, in James’ latest novel, The Private Patient, not only does a plot-line from another novel by Cyril Hare plays a significant part in the story, but she takes care properly to acknowledge her gifted predecessor.

I too had a bit of good fortune a few years ago, when out of the blue I was contacted by Cyril Hare’s son, Charles Gordon Clark. To my regret, we never met, but Charles provided me with a great deal of fascinating information about his father. Some of it found its way into an article that I co-wrote with that tireless researcher, Philip Scowcroft, and which, having first appeared in CADS, is now to be found on my website: Cyril Hare.


WhereDunnit said...

I recently wrote a brief review of another Cyril Hare: He Should Have Died Hereafter which I read in connection with crime fiction set in Devon.I enjoyed it very much,
with a few caveats.

I also read An English Murder - a country-house murder in the snow story - but didn't find that one quite as entertaining.

David Cranmer said...

Thanks for the great review and also the history. Detection and the Law: An Appreciation of Cyril Hare was a nice extension to your Friday Forgotten Book.

Dorte H said...

What an interesting post. I have only read one of Cyril Hare´s books (I imagine most of them have not been translated into Danish), but it was certainly a good, ´oldfashioned´ whodunnit.
I also enjoyed hearing about P.D. James´ generosity.

pattinase (abbott) said...

This was another author I read extensively as a young woman. Thanks for bringing his name back.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments, eveyone. WhereDunnit, I agree that He Should Have Died Hereafter is not a major work compared to Tragedy at Law. I like An English Murder, and I can also recommend Suicide Excepted and Where the Wind Blows in particular.