Friday, December 26, 2008

52. An English Murder by Cyril Hare

An English Murder pictureI was at home over the holidays and really in the mood for a good, British mystery. My dad recommended this one from my parents' excellent collection of paperback mysteries and it definitely satisfied my needs! I had seen this book lying around for years and I always thought, mainly because of the early '70s and genericy mystery cover that it was perhaps a decent read, a nice little find by my parents that they thought good enough to not let go of. Turns out it is actually a classic of the genre, well-received upon publication and considered today among aficionados to be one of the best of these kinds of mysteries.

Faber Finds does a better (and quicker) job than I can in describing the plot:

A classic detective story from one of the best-loved Golden Age crime writers, Cyril Hare, originally published in 1951.

The setting of An English Murder seems, at first, to be a very conventional one. A group of family and friends come together for Christmas at a country house, Warbeck Hall. The house is owned by Lord Warbeck, a dying and impoverished peer who wants to be among loved ones for what he thinks will be his last Christmas. The holiday decorations are up and snow is falling fast outside. The guests range from the Lord’s difficult son to a visiting Czech historian. There is, of course, a faithful butler and his ambitious daughter.

But when the murders begin, there is nothing at all conventional about them - or the manner of their detection. This ingenious detective story gleefully plays with all of our expectations about what an ‘English murder’ might be and offers enough twists and turns to keep us reading into the night.

An excellent, tight little mystery. I enjoyed it on many levels. The pacing and writing are excellent. The dialogue of the butler is particularly enjoyable. The mystery itself is actually solvable by the reader, not easily but in the sense that the author doesn't try to trick or misdirect you. I like to be part of the process when I read a classic murder mystery and I certainly felt that way. I didn't entirely figure it out, though, so the mystery was interesting right up until the end. Finally, it is all wrapped around history and the fading of the British aristocracy in a way that gives it depth. Highly recommended.

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