Review: An English Murder

English Murder, AnCyril Hare, An English Murder

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. (Summary from Amazon.com.)

This was my first Cyril Hare mystery, but hopefully it won’t be my last! This is a quintessential English country house mystery, and I really enjoyed it. Most of the characters aren’t particularly likable, but the amateur sleuth, Dr. Wenceslaus Bottwink, makes up for all the others. Not only does he have a great name, but his somewhat detached “observer” status allows him to see the situation clearly and even find some humor in the various nasty interactions among other characters. The book is also interesting as a historical artifact: it was published just after World War II (1951, I believe) and contains characters whose views span the whole political spectrum, from socialism to fascism. The solution to the mystery, which also explains the book’s title, is one of the most delightful resolutions to a murder mystery that I’ve read in a while. Definitely recommended for vintage mystery lovers!

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