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now,that was a really difficult book for me.i was tempted to abandon it,however,a strange charm made me go on.i liked the austere.'legal' style very much and i am going to try an english murder too.Hares profession is obvious in the novel and i found really interesting learning about the legal system in a past england[i found the judges rounds fascinating.and yes i guessed who did it but the motiv was really clever and unexpected.


I, too, guessed who, though the exact nature of the "why" certainly eluded me. I enjoyed it very much - there's a pleasing dryness of style and humour - my only complaint was the misleading plot summary on the back cover of the new Faber edition, which implies that Pettigrew is going to be much more present and active than he actually is, and it irritated me. After a bit of research, I see that this is not the only book in which he appears, which explains it, I suppose.

The detail of the circuit court was wonderful, and reminded me of a Rumpole story I shall have to identify, and I loved the description of the "lousy" lodgings in Wimblingham, where no judge's wife will set foot "except Lady Fosbery, and she doesn't count". I thought Hilda and the judge very well done - they would catch your sympathy for a moment, and then lose it again almost immediately - and the case of Rex v. Ockenhurst was a superb bit of narrative. I'll certainly read more of Cyril Hare's books, although I think I shall always prefer to wallow in the more baroque style of Allingham or Innes (how about one of the Appleby books for CBG's next foray into crime? - maybe Hamlet, Revenge!)

Jackie (Farm Lane Books)

I enjoyed reading it too. I loved the Englishness! I was smiling when I read the scene with the chocolates - I'm afraid I would have been long dead, as I do eat most chocolates whole - something which was considered impossible!

I must admit that a lot of the legal bits went over my head. I think that this book would appeal much more to members of the legal profession and people with a real passion for crime novels, as I found the court details a bit too much at times.

I also guessed who did it, but I didn't mind as it was well plotted.

A great choice - thank you!


"Tragedy at Law" was one of the holiday books for my husband and I. I found the beginning slow and and at first got a bit confused with the different characters and their titles. However once I was into the story I enjoyed the descriptions of the various towns,lodgings etc. I found the character of Hilda particularly well done,small details like "permitting herself a professional hostess's wail at the lopsidedness of her table".
Like Geranium Cat, I was misled by the plot summary.

Although my husband is a lawyer,he usually avoids books about the legal profession (on holiday he finished all his reading material and then started on mine).We had an "inhouse"discussion. He found the book a bit whimsical and was a bit niggled by the what he called an obscure point of law at the end. As he has always practised in Scotland, he maintained that this was not the case in Scotland and an action can be raised 3 years after the incident.
Nevertheless I enjoyed the book and I did suspect Hilda as the killer.
Thank you for choosing the book.I will read other books by Cyril Hare in the future.

Barbara MacLeod

A delightful book!

I loved the humour. Mrs Square's exclaims, "Four courses for lunch!.. in wartime!" to which Pettigrew responds ... "Four courses of the Apocalypse."

There was the scene of the man getting off "scot fee". I decided to look it up:
"... derives from a medieval municipal tax levied in proportional shares on inhabitants, often for poor relief. This tax was called a scot, as an abbreviation of the full term scot and lot, where scot was the sum to be paid and lot was one’s allotted share. (This tax lasted a long time, in some places such as Westminster down to the electoral reforms of 1832, with only those paying scot and lot being allowed to vote.) So somebody who avoided paying his share of the town’s expenses for some reason got off scot free."

Another example which intrigued me: The Lend Lease Act. Briefly, it was the name of the program under which the USA supplied the UK, the Soviet Union, China, France and other Allied nations with vast amounts of war material between 1941 and 1945 in return for, in the case of Britain, military bases in Newfoundland, Bermuda, and the British West Indies. [Wikipedia]

And lastly, does the expression "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs" originate in this novel?

Dark Puss

I think that the expression regarding omelettes goes back to at least the 19th C. The "Gluttons Glossary" (J Ayto, 1990) says:

On ne fait pas d'omelette sans casser des oeufs [or On ne peut pas faire des omelettes sans casser les oeufs] (attributed to Robespierre and Napoleon)

and claims (no reference) that the first recorded use in English is 1859.

Mary McCartney

I've read four Cyril Hart books recently and probably enjoyed this one most. Like others, I guessed whodunnit but the why seemed a bit weak. The crime was almost incidental in this novel - the real purpose was the description of the panoply of the Assizes and I thought the characters and atmosphere were portrayed superbly. Still prefer Allingham or Tey over all, though.

Mr Cornflower

I enjoyed this for the very atmospheric invocation of two intersecting worlds, one if not closed then at least mysterious to the lay reader (the law), the other now only a memory (provincial England during the last war). This was for me more interesting than the 'whodunnit' aspect which was a bit more stilted. But one thing which did intrigue me was the relish with which Hare describes the well-oiled machinery of a classic Establishment cover-up moving into operation after the Judge's accident; remembering that this was published in 1942, during a still unfinished struggle for national survival, it was clearly seen as uncontroversial to suggest that people in positions of power - in the Judge's case, literally life or death power - could be venal, weak and dishonest. Rather like the censor's decision (about the same time) to allow the release of the film "The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp", I find this a rather reassuring sign of self-confidence.

Mr Cornflower

Less often cited is the conservative's response to this radical maxim: it is all too easy to break several eggs while failing to make an omelette.


I too enjoyed the book - I've long been a fan of the TV series Judge John Deed, so even though the book is set in a very different time, some of it seemed familiar - I love the gravitas of the judges in their crimson robes (and the comparison with their private lives!)It was in fact one of the books that I try to read slowly, not wanting to finish it too soon! The character of Lady Barber is interesting, and points out the waste of so many intelligent educated women at that time; she seemed to know more law and have a lot more commonsense than her husband. I did think the ending was a bit contrived though, not as much of a shock as it was meant to be.

Barbara MacLeod

Oh-h-h-! Great stuff!!! It's one of my favourite expressions and I never thought it could be bettered!


I was not very enamourmered of this book. I found the writing style terribly dull, and though it had its amusing moments and a certain amount of period charm, those were not enough, for me, to compensate for a story which I was not really engaged by. I was annoyed, as others here were, by the misleading blurb -- I thought Pettigrew was the most interesting character so I was disappointed that he didn't have all that much to do. The structure was a bit odd -- no murder till almost at the end, though I suppose that was an orginal twist, if you wanted to see it that way. But I guessed who had done it and thought the reason for it was contrived. I am in the midst of a Margery Allingham, right now (The Fashion in Shrouds) which knocks spots of this novel. Sorry!


I'm half way between Harriet and the enthusiasts. It's a competent, well crafted piece in the "I'm cleverer than you" style of detective fiction. The legalese climax is really a cheat, the equivalent of a clue the reader hasn't been told about. And I agree with Harriet the writing's a bit wooden and the plot lacks much depth or richness. But I'd read one of these from time to time - but there's plenty better period crime out there.

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