So you like old-fashioned, traditional mysteries, do you? Well, here's one for you traditionalists:
- Murder at a country manor? CHECK.
- An English family gathering for the Christmas holidays? CHECK.
- The house isolated by an impassable snowstorm? CHECK.
- Suspects include feuding family members, an enigmatic butler, his ambitious daughter? CHECK.
- Additional suspects among the upper-class English house guests? CHECK.
- Diligent (and rather intelligent) official investigator, plus a gifted amateur on hand? CHECK.
Traditional enough for you? Then let's talk about An English Murder, by Cyril Hare, a 1951 mystery that takes all those very English features as the starting point for a witty and thoroughly enjoyable - if not always as English as one might expect - murder mystery. An English Murder is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.
An English Murder takes place at Warbeck Hall, a country manor belonging to Lord Warbeck. He is a very sick man who has invited members of his family to gather at the hall for what he is certain will be his last Christmas.
Now this book was written in 1951, a time when much of British politics had become an all-out class struggle, in the wake of the second world war. That struggle is reflected within the Warbeck family: old Lord Warbeck himself is, not surprisingly, a conservative; his brother, Sir Julius Warbeck, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, is a Socialist; and his son, Robert Warbeck, is an out-and-out Fascist. These three get along about as well as you might expect from those conflicting political positions.
It doesn't take long for strains to appear - in the family relations, in the tensions between the members of different social classes, between servants and the people they serve. A snowstorm, which (of course!) cuts them off completely from the outside world, does not help matters. And when murder occurs - as it soon will - it is worth noting that this "most English" murder can only be solved by the very un-English house guest of Lord Warbeck, an historian who is also a middle-European Jewish refugee, named Dr. Bottwink. It will be up to him, working with a more-or-less lower class but very intelligent detective sergeant named Rogers, to find the true solution to the puzzling murders.
I don't want to say much more about An English Murder except to note that - despite its publication date of 1951 - the book reads very much like a classic, Golden Age mystery. Cyril Hare was quite popular in the middle years of the 20th century, but his books have largely fallen out of print. This one is available again in a nice reprint from the British publishers Faber & Faber, in their "Faber Finds" series. An interesting plot, lots of clues, and a great many of the staples of the Golden Age murder mystery lovingly presented make this book worth reading.