An English Murder by Cyril Hare
Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)
Although written in 1951, An English Murder (also published as The Christmas Murder) has the elements of a cozy mystery that was written in the Thirties. It takes place in an English country house. The characters are familiar and they play out a ripping good yarn with lots of twists. Intelligent themes and literate prose engage the little grey cells. Yet another attraction is that it takes places at Christmas, though the murder does put a damper on celebrating.
The first half covers the background. Unusually for a cozy, Hare includes political differences as a factor that strains the relationships among the characters. The cousin of an impoverished peer is a socialist Minister of Parliament. The obnoxious wife of a rising man in the MP’s treasury is ambitious for her hubby and accordingly into expediency. The son of the peer has gone black sheep by becoming involved in a neo-fascist group called The League of Freedom and Dignity. The loyal butler’s daughter is determined not to let her working class background hold her back. Observing all this with a tolerant eye is Dr. Bottwink, a Hungarian Jewish university professor, who is going over the family’s papers as part of his research on 18th century English politics. Dr. Bottwink tells the loyal butler that the English have been lucky to live a country where politics can be safely ignored, even in the 20th century.
Be assured that this is not a political novel disguised as a mystery or thriller, however. Hare never lets politics interfere with the unfolding of his ingenious plot. Hare was a judge in the civil courts before he turned to writing full time. So like that other lawyer-writer, Erle Stanley Gardner, his plots turn on elaborate motives and intricate schemes that go wrong and end in murder. As in his earlier novel Tenant for Death, this is an especially pleasing mystery.