Friday, December 29, 2017

An English Murder by Cyril Hare

Cyril Hare is one of the writers on my TBR list and when I saw his book on offer, I just had to get it. Plus, it’s a Christmas murder so it’s seasonally appropriate (and I read it on Christmas Day so yay me, I guess?)

An English Murder takes place during a very tense Christmas party. The dying Lord Warbeck has called his friends and family together. The guest list consists of Sir Julius, his cousin and Chancellor of Exchequer, Lady Camilla Prendergast, a really sweet girl who was in love with his son, Mrs Carstaire, a pushy woman proud of her is husband, and his son Robert, a nasty anti-Semitic who runs the racist ‘League of Liberty and Justice.’

Also at the house is Dr. Bottwink, a historian studying the history of the family (and the detective of the story), Rogers, a policeman assigned to protect Sir Julius, the Butler, and his daughter, who has a secret relationship with Robert.

Anyway, since Robert is the nastiest character, he gets killed off and it seems like almost everyone has a motive. While Sir Julius and Lady Carstairs try to make it seem like a suicide, Dr. Bottwink and Rogers are investigating (although not as a team).

I really enjoyed this story and I don’t get why the library had very few copies of Cyril Hare’s books (I don’t think they have an English Murder). The writing is easy to read and the mystery was well-plotted, with everyone seeming suspicious. I also liked the characterisations - Camilla is the typical ‘sweet girl’ but Sir Julius and Mrs Carstairs stand out because they show that self-interest and pompous behaviour has always been around. Of course, they’re the ones who push the suicide theory.

Dr. Bottwink was also wonderfully written. Like Poirot, he is not English, but that’s where the similarity ends. He doesn’t have the arrogance of Poirot (and I like Poirot, so this isn’t really a criticism of him) and he’s really passionate about history, which makes him a really charming character. His deductions made sense too, and I liked the reveal.

I also enjoyed how this book explored themes of class/social structures in Britain. It’s not the dominant theme (though it is important), but having Dr. Bottwink try to feel his way through the unspoken societal rules allowed the book to explore the topic a little.

If you like mysteries, especially those from the Golden Age, you have to read this. It’s a great locked-room mystery (the house is snowed in) with a cast of characters that spring to life as soon as the book opens.

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