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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic British whodunnit, 25 Mar 2009
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This review is from: Tragedy at Law (Paperback)
Cyril Hare is the pen-name of Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark (1900-58), a Rugby and Oxford educated Inner Temple barrister who was called to the bar in 1924 and whose career as both a judge and an excellent fiction writer was cut short by his untimely death. "Tragedy at Law" was published in 1942 and is set in the autumn of 1939 and the spring of 1940 in the fictitious Southern Circuit Assizes. British justice evolved periodically in the 20th Century and this book captures the way it was after the abolition of Grand Juries and before the Quarter Sessions became the full-time Crown Courts.

The traveling circus of the Assizes, moving from one county town to another, at which the judge hears both criminal and civil matters that await him is the back story to this mystery in which the judge seems to be the target of at least one person of ill-will, whilst anticipating being the defendant in litigation that will terminate his career. The characters that accompany him - his young wife, his martial, his clerk and at least one barrister are all suspects as the story progresses through 24 neatly defined chapters, each of which develops the mystery as well as taking us around the circuit of Assize hearings and then back to London and the Central Criminal Court, better known by the name of the street it stands in - Old Bailey.

All the clues are put in place, although the suspense is maintained literally to the last page (but don't bother reading that first, it won't help you) of this novel. The way the story is crafted is actually an excellent study as to how to write fiction; so good, in fact, that I wonder why it didn't make school reading lists when I was a lad. My schoolboy Latin let me down on page 32 - "Fiat Justitia ruat coelum", but the internet helped me make sense of the joke, presented in the rarified atmosphere of the judge being entertained by the bar - the barristers following the circuit.

The first stages of the Second World War form a second back story, the Assize period being during the phoney war and the London-based events climaxing with the fighting in Norway being the main point of the news. Cyril Hare has a dry charm with words - an Act of Parliament is described as having been "composed by an illiterate with a talent for obscurity" - nothing's changed then. One more quote, when the judge considers his position - "of what avail were the constitutional safeguards, the Bill of Rights, the cherished inviolability of his position, against them, whose weapons were the irresistible pressure of public opinion." Gordon Brown might have the answer.

An excellent read and a worthy introduction to this author. I hesitate to pick another of his books just yet, in case they're all the same, like John Grisham's; maybe I'll get over that when choosing holiday reading.
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