Having enjoyed “An English Murder” many years ago and Tragedy at Law last year, when the Bodies from the Library conference announced that Cyril Hare was up for discussion this year I decided to go all in and acquire his complete works.
“Tenant for Death” and “Death of a Sportsman” were both solid mysteries, introducing the reader to Inspector Mallett, whose prime characteristic is that he never lets an investigation prevent him from having three square meals a day.
This book begins when Leonard Dickinson returns, as his annual custom, to his old family home which is now a country hotel. The next day he is found dead in his room. A jury of his peers for good reason rules out accidental death and brings in a verdict of “suicide while the balance of his mind was disturbed”.
This is unfortunate for his widow and two children as it invalidates a life insurance policy which he had taken out less than a year before. They are therefore forced to overturn the familiar pattern where a family of ne’er do wells are anxious to have a murder proved a suicide, instead having to demonstrate that a morose, pessimistic man did not kill himself, but was instead killed by a person or persons unknown, despite not having an enemy in the world.
The dead man’s children, Stephen and Anne, along with her fiancé, Martin, track down the people who were staying at the hotel at the time of the tragedy and start to discover that maybe, against all the odds, more than one of them may have had a motive for murder. However their quest would surely fail were it not for the fact that a holidaying Inspector Mallett was one of the last people to have seen Leonard alive and it is only when he becomes more interested in the case that it can be fully resolved.
Whilst it stretches coincidence to breaking point – what may be true in a country house mystery couldn’t be true in a country hotel mystery – it is the best of the first three Hare’s, and as I said above the first two were pretty good. Definitely one to consider if you are going to Bodies and only plan to sample Hare’s work.
Vintage Mystery Challenge
It appears in Bounty Books “501 Must-Read Books” so fulfils “Why – it made a ‘best of’ list”.