Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Christmas Murder: Review

Cyril Hare loves to throw a bit of obscure law and/or English history about in his books and he does it again in The Christmas Murder (aka An English Murder; 1951). But not knowing the ins and outs of English law and history as well as our author (who was actually His Honor Judge [Alfred Alexander] Gordon Clark, and as a young barrister had chambers in Hare Court) didn't detract from the enjoyment of the mystery--nor did it prevent me from spotting the culprit (though I may not have known precisely why s/he did it).

The crime takes place as you might expect from the title of this edition during Christmas at the country home of Lord Warbeck, an ailing peer who wants to be among his family for what he believes will be his last Christmas. But as midnight strikes on Christmas Eve Warbeck's young son, Robert staggers to the windows which show a raging blizzard and falls dead from poison. There is no hope that the local police will make it to the Hall any time soon as snowfall has cut the country house off from the outside world. So the case lands with the only available policeman--the man assigned as personal bodyguard to Lord Warbeck's brother, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Robert wasn't exactly the most lovable of men. He was rude and selfish. He flaunted his fascist politics. He could be cruel in his love affairs. He was almost asking to be murdered. But was he done in by the girl whose heart he had broken? Or by a relative that he'd been cruel to one too many times? Or maybe the long-suffering family servant had finally had enough of Master Robert's ways? 

On the spot is also an unassuming Jewish historian--a survivor of Auschwitz who has come to catalogue the Warbeck history. Accustomed to historical "detective" work of a sort, he has an eye for detail and less-than-obvious connections and soon Dr. Wenceslaus Bottwink has discovered not only the culprit, but the unconventional motive for the murder.

I read this once upon a time from the library under its original title An English Murder. In fact, it was the very first Cyril Hare novel that I read and I enjoyed it enough to put the other Hare books on my "To Be Found" list. I was pleased to find it in this edition and back in 2014 and to have it available to read at Christmastime. It is a lovely country house mystery with a positive view of Jewish refugees and an interesting look at British class structure woven in. Those who enjoy the Golden Age style--where the clues are displayed (whether one is astute enough to pick them all up or not) and fair play is observed--will enjoy this one. ★★★★ then and ★★★★ now.

(Actually finished on 11/25/17...I am woefully behind on reviews.)

1 comment:

Tarissa said...

Ooh! Looks like a fun mystery. It would certainly be interesting to read from an author who was a judge, and knows the ins and outs of law. Sounds intriguing.