Sunday, 2 June 2013

This book is acknowledged by many lawyers to be the classic detective story with a legal background. It has stood the test of time and has been sold regularly during the lives of three Lord Chief Justices, at least one of whom has had no reasonable doubt (or has felt sure) of its excellence. (Henry Cecil in the Sunday Times.)

When I came across a well-worn copy of Tragedy at Law on the rummage shelf outside a second hand bookshop recently, the title sounded familiar and I remembered that it was one of Cornflower's bookclub titles rather a long time ago. (Word of warning, there's spoilers in her comments section.)
Apologies to Cornflower for being so out of step ... but I got there in the end and thoroughly enjoyed this dry, elegant, lawyerly murder mystery (though the murder only happens at the end).
Like Karen, I guessed whodunnit although I think only a qualified lawyer could work out exactly why. There are some wonderful characters - the pompous circuit judge, his highly intelligent and much younger wife, Hilda ('like many other women barristers, she had never succeeded in acquiring a practice'), and the disillusioned lawyer Pettigrew whose irrepressible levity has cost him success.

'Four courses for lunch!' she exclaimed. 'In wartime!'
As usual, she was conscious, too late, that she had said the wrong thing. 
Pettigrew plunged desperately in to the rescue. As usual, he said the first thing that came into his head. 
'The four courses of the Apocalypse, in fact,' he remarked. 

(I could so imagine Pettigrew chuckling over this.)

I loved the descriptions of Judges' Lodgings and all the panoply of the assizes and the author's dry cynicism about the justice system. Later in his career, Cyril Hare became a judge himself.

Something about that quality of writing from the inside reminded me of this classic Fleet Street novel, sadly forgotten today... some time I must go back and see if it's as good the second time round.


lyn said...

I love Cyril Hare. I read all his novels in a binge some years ago but must go back & reread one of these days. He's one of P D James's favourites & I've read that she was taken on at Faber after his death to fill a gap in the crime list. Lucky choice for Faber, indeed, if it's true.

mary said...

This was a first for me, Lyn, but I'd happily read some more.