Lord Thomas Warbeck, a peer of the realm, is dying, and calls his remaining family to him for Christmas – Sir Julius, his first cousin, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, his son, Robert, a post-war would-be facist leader, Lady Camilla, the one-time sweetheart of Robert and Mrs Carstairs, the wife of Sir Julius’ close colleague. Also in the house, apart from the butler, Briggs, is Wenceslaus Bottwink, a History Professor who is researching the house for Warbeck.
Christmas proves to be an uncomfortable affair, culminating in Robert dropping dead from cyanide poisoning. While most of the household seem content to assume it is a suicide, Bottwink is convinced that it was murder. But soon the death count begins to rise…
Well, I wasn’t intending to read this, but you can blame Robert Thorogood for it, recommending it on Twitter. I trust his tastes in whodunits, given how well he constructs them himself, but I’ll be honest, I was wary. I’m not a big fan of Cyril Hare, despite his reputation, but I thought I’d give this one a go – it is Christmas after all.
In terms of Christmas, it’s not particularly Christmassy. Like Thou Shell Of Death, the Christmas setting is basically an excuse for a) everyone getting together in one house and b) a plot-convenient snowstorm. In the Blake book, it was for a footprint problem, here it’s to isolate the suspects in the house.
It’s a fun read, quite different from the Hare novels that I’ve read before, a very traditional country house mystery, although reflecting post-war politics in a non-lecturery way. Bottwink is a typical amateur sleuth, although he’s not quite the übersleuth, making the odd mistake along the way.
It’s a short book, so there’s not a lot of detail to say, other than it’s a very enjoyable affair and has, quite possibly, a truly unique element to the solution of the mystery that does make good sense. And the title is rather clever as well.
So many thanks to Robert Thorogood for the recommendation – have another plug for the excellent The Marlow Murder Club as a thank you.