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Tenant for Death Paperback – 21 Sep 2009
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Originally published in 1937, "Tenant for Death" is the first novel by Cyril Hare, one of the best-loved Golden Age crime writers. Two young estate agent's clerks are sent to check an inventory on a house in Daylesford Gardens, South Kensington. Upon arrival, they find an unlisted item - a corpse. Furthermore, the mysterious tenant, Colin James, has disappeared. In a tale which uncovers many of the seedier aspects of the world of high finance, Hare also introduces his readers to the formidable Inspector Mallett of Scotland Yard. Upon first publication the "Times Literary Supplement" praised "Tenant for Death" as 'a most ingenious story' while the Spectator celebrated its 'wit, fair play, and characterization' and also declared that 'a new star has risen'.
About the Author
Cyril Hare was the pseudonym for the distinguished lawyer Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark. He was born in Surrey, in 1900, and was educated at Rugby and Oxford. A member of the Inner Temple, he was called to the Bar in 1924 and joined the chambers of Roland Oliver, who handled many of the great crime cases of the 1920s. He practised as a barrister until the Second World War, after which he served in various legal and judicial capacities including a time as a county court judge in Surrey.
Hare's crime novels, many of which draw on his legal experience, have been praised by Elizabeth Bowen and P.D. James among others. He died in 1958 - at the peak of his career as a judge, and at the height of his powers as a master of the whodunit.
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The central mysteries in this, the identity of the murderer of a swindling financier, and the whereabouts of the tenant of the house in which his body was found, are not too difficult to fathom.
The journey to the solution and the methodology and character of the main investigator, Inspector Mallet are interesting, if at times a little too laborious.
It's an all too familiar (these days) tale of a City financier, whose crooked schemes (using a group of companies to move assets around, disguising the underlying paucity of valuable assets) finally attract the wrong sort of attention - and he flits to avoid his creditors.
However, he doesn't seem to have gone far or fast enough, as his body is found strangled next day in the home of a mysterious 'Mr James' - who has now seemingly vanished. The mix of suspects includes the victim's wife, his mistress, her husband, the estate agent who let the house, a fellow board member, and a recently freed partner in one of Ballantine's previous scams.
Cyril Hare's detections are competent, but the great attraction is the writing; all the novels show a polished and urbane wit that makes them a delight.