I don’t remember snow like this in Cheshire since my schooldays. Lovely to look at, even if massively inconvenient as regards commuting to work or hospital visiting. Yesterday evening, the dramatic weather prompted me to reflect on murder mysteries that I’ve enjoyed over the years where snow falls have played a prominent part in the story. One of the best in the last twenty years was Jim Kelly’s Death Wore White, a modern take on the classic locked room mystery, which I reviewed on this blog a year or so ago.
Snow also plays a background role in Cyril Hare’s An English Murder, a classic whodunit, and one of the finest of all mysteries set at Christmas, which dates from 1951. It was based on a radio play that Hare had written three years earlier; this was one of a series of six plays written by member of the Detection Club, and it would be wonderful if some enterprising publisher could one day republish them all.
An English Murder features an appealing amateur sleuth, Dr Bottwink, who is very different from Hare’s regular characters, notably the sceptical barrister Francis Pettigrew. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable story, which I first read more than twenty years ago. At the time of his premature death, Hare had just started writing another novel featuring Dr Bottwink, and a few years ago, I had the privilege to be shown the very short incomplete manuscript by Hare’s son. It was utterly fascinating to see it, although Hare wrote so little of it that it was impossible to figure out the nature of the mystery, far less the prospective solution.
A couple of years ago, I co-authored with Philip Scowcroft for CADS an article about Cyril Hare, and anyone interested in this fine writer (who is referenced in the latest P.D. James) can find the piece on the articles page of my website.