"Detective novels are a retreat into an imaginary past in which a small number of protagonists circle one another in an enclosed dream world. A cordon sanitaire of fantasy protects the characters from the clumsy, grubby reality of life around them; although there are plots, betrayals and killings, these seem far removed from the paranoia of one's own time, and readers have the satisfying certainty that the sleuth will resolve the puzzle and rout the murderer."
So writes Richard Davenport-Hines in The London Library Magazine in an article in which he looks at the "escapist pleasures" of the Library's detective fiction collection - which includes Cyril Hare's books.
Hare's Tragedy at Law is the CBG's second taste of the crime novel, and is more austere and cleanly cut and less atmospheric and uninhibitedly 'luxuriant' than Margery Allingham's marvellous The Tiger in the Smoke, but nevertheless it is very enjoyable indeed. Hare was a barrister, and it's the vanished world of the judge and his retinue on circuit in the south of England during the early days of the war which is the setting for the various disturbing events which involve at their centre The Honourable Sir William Hereward Barber, Justice of the King's Bench Division. It is a lawyer's book, precise, considered, inward-looking, and it shows a healthy degree of pomposity-pricking self-awareness!
P.D. James, as quoted on the cover, says it is "written with elegance and wit", and I agree. I loved the occasional authorial aside - "Her ladyship interjected a comment upon the Court of Criminal Appeal which, in deference to that august institution, may here be omitted" - and a professional interest in the setting and subject-matter was fully satisfied by both the minutiae and the greater scheme of the plot respectively, while both, I think, avoided excluding the layman.
Returning to Richard Davenport-Hines' article, he describes Cyril Hare's books as "wise, elegant novels" and says, tantalisingly, that his An English Murder "has a brilliantly convincing motive for homicide that no novelist has used before or since"! But what of Tragedy at Law? I loved it, and I did guess 'who did it', which was cleverly, pleasingly plotted, I thought; how about you?