At the height of the second World War, Francis Pettigrew is dispatched from the peril of London to Marsett on Sea, as legal adviser to the Pin Control, a government department that is being hosted in the former home of the improbably named Lord Eglwyswrw. Needless to say, this isn’t the most riveting work that Pettigrew and his compatriots have ever undertaken, and the days drag by.
The group soon begin to invent ways to pass the time. While Pettigrew doesn’t really get involved, the rest, including a known crime novelist, invent a murder game. Hey, you’ll never guess what? Oh, you guessed.
Cyril Hare is a much admired writer of crime fiction. Martin Edwards and Christine Poulson are big fans, and he is certainly one of those crime writers who fans of the genre have heard of. Tragedy At Law is his best known book, but I wasn’t a fan, oddly for the same reason why Martin admires it, namely the lateness of the central crime. So what about this generally well-received second outing for Pettigrew?
I think the main problem with this is the pacing. One man’s satire on government bureaucracy is another man’s padding. Couple all the nonsense with the investigation that brings Inspector Mallett into the area before the murder takes place, an investigation that is kept nebulous, and this reader found himself checking the remaining page count more often that I’d like.
What about the mystery? Well, I was helped a little here by having read the penultimate Pettigrew mystery, and thus I guessed the importance of one central character. Unfortunately, once you work out what their purpose in the story, the murderer might as well be wearing a high-vis jacket with “I DID IT” written on the back.
I can’t deny the quality of Hare’s prose, but there wasn’t enough in the core plot to sustain the novel format and the chunk towards the end where Pettigrew disappears from view and we are entertained by Mallett interviewing suspects – well, it’s entertaining in places, but by this point the killer was obvious to me and it felt a bit like marking time until the denouement.
I think I’m in a minority here, but while this passed the time and was an easy read – as I said, Hare writes well – there just wasn’t enough to it in my eyes. I’ve a few other Hares on my shelf… maybe better luck next time.