An English Murder

Cyril Hare

Faber 2017 [1951]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2019
It's more memorable than most and incorporates some political and social commentary, but An English Murder is very much in the Golden Age English murder mystery tradition: a country mansion is snowed in over Christmas and six gather around the table for a tea which only five survive.

The ailing Lord Warbeck is making a rare appearance downstairs. His son and heir Robert is trying to build a new fascist movement. His cousin Julius, in contrast, is a socialist chancellor of the exchequer, and comes with a police bodyguard (who provides the "straight" part of the investigation). Distant cousin Lady Camilla is in love with Robert. Mrs Carstairs is an old family friend, married to one of Julius' colleagues. And our sleuth is Dr Wenceslaus Bottwink, in the house only because he is going through the Warbeck archives for his historical research. Oh, and the butler has a secret...

The plot is a little contrived — though less so than in most Agatha Christie novels — but moves along briskly, and the characters are, though largely ciphers, convincing enough to support the story. Without ever interfering with the story, An English Murder offers a bit more. A major attraction is Dr Bottwink, a Jewish Czech concentration camp survivor, slightly pompous, trying hard to fit in, and with an outsider's view of England and the English. He is an engaging vehicle both for the resolution of the mystery, which hinges on an obscure point of constitutional law, and for a perspective on post-war politics and social change which has aged better than that of many of Cyril Hare's contemporaries.

July 2019

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%T An English Murder
%A Hare, Cyril
%I Faber
%D 2017 [1951]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9780571339013
%P 202pp