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for Books and Writers
by Bamber Gascoigne

Cyril Hare (1900-1958) - pseudonym for Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark


British mystery writer, lawyer, and country court judge in Surrey, who combined in his work his knowledge of subleties of law with sympathetic portrayal of his characters and unexpected plot developments. Hare's most famous work is Tragedy at Law (1942), widely acclaimed as one of the great classics of detective novel. In 1987 the critic and mystery writer H.R.F. Keating included it among the 100 best crime and mystery books ever published.

"The book is also a first-rate 'backgrounder', one of those detective stories half of whose attraction lies in the setting in which the crime takes place, in this case the legal world in general and circuit life in particular. And, finally, the book contrives in those last pages to be a beautifully unguessable murder story." (Crime & Mystery: The 100 Best Books by H.R.F. Keating, 1996, 2nd Carroll & Graf pbk. ed., p. 69)

Cyril Hare was born Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark in Mickleham, Surrey. His father, Henry Herbert Gordon Clark, ran the family wine and spirit business, Matthew Clark & Sons. Most of his early years Hare spent in the country, where he learned to hunt, shoot, and fish. After studies at St Aubyn's, Rottingdean and Rugby, Hare entered the New College, Oxford, and was called to the bar in 1924, fulfilling his part of the family tradition. In 1933, he married Mary Barbara Lawrence; they one son and two daughters.

With his family, Hare settled in Cyril Mansions, Battersea, London. At the bar his practice was largely in the civil and criminal courts in and around London. He worked in the firm of noted barrister Ronald Oliver, in Hare Court, Temple, where many of the great crime cases of the 1920s were handled.

During World War II, Hare toured as a judge's marshal for some time. In 1940, he worked a brief period at the Ministry of Economic Warfare; his experiences provided the inspiration for With a Bare Bodkin. From 1942 to 45, he was served as a Temporary Legal Assistant in the Director of Public Prosecutions Department. Shortly after the war, he contracted tuberculosis, from which he never fully recovered.

After some occasional sketches for Punch and other journals, Hare published his first mystery novel, Tenant for Death (1937). It dealt with the disappearance of a financier, who is the found dead in South Kensington. His pseudonym Hare took from his London home, and his Temple chambers, Hare Court, where he worked. The well-received debut was followed by Death Is No Sportsman (1938), and Suicide Expected (1939), which were good, solid mysteries, but did not drew to any great extent on his legal background. Hare's great interest in music is seen in When the Wind Blows (1949), in which a local orchestra performs Mozart's Prague Symphony. Pettigrew's wife Eleanor plays the violin passably well. "No reasonable husband could object, particularly when this blameless occupation was coupled with an undertaking, scrupulously carried out, to practice only when he was out of the house." (Ibid., p. 16)

Hare's pricipal series characters were Inspector John Mallet of Scotland Yard and a fellow barrister Francis Pettigrew, who first appeared in Tragedy at Law as an unhappy, aging lawyer. "But to be honest, and for once he felt like being honest with himself, was not the over-riding cause of Francis Pettigrew's lack of success –  no, if he was to be honest why not call things by their proper names? – of his failure, then, simply something lacking in Francis Pettigrew himself?" (Ibid., p. 16) The book was published by Faber and Faber, which remained Hare's publisher throughout his career.

In With a Bare Bodkin  (1946) Pettigre meets Miss Eleanor Brown, a young woman half his age, and falls in love with her. At the end, Pettigrew expresses his feelings towards her: "I want you desperately, and I want you here. If you go, you go with my malediction on your head, and I promise you solemnly I shall use all my influence with the Ministry of Labour to have you directed into domestic service in a hospital for bombed-out inebriates. Now, what do you say?" Pettigrew has peaceful retirement in He Should Have Died Hereafter (1958). As a character, Pettigrew is carefully developed story by story. Hare once remarked that writers may be excused, if they surround principal policeman with contrasting colorful types and streamline police routines. Noteworthy, in spite of mastering the fine points of English law, Pettigrew is haunted by his lack of success, a trait which makes him somewhat unique in the world of legal mysteries.

Hare's narration is mildly humorous and charming, but he did not make condescending fun of ordinary police officers, familiar from the work of Dorothy Sayers. Basically, the real target of Hare's irony was the speech and pretentious manners of the British upper classes, especially the judges of the High Court of Justice: "There is however, something about judical garments that gives consequence to any but the most undignified figure," Hare wrote in Tragedy at Law. (Ibid., p. 8)  Hare had a good ear for different social languages; as a public speaker he was supreme.

Tragedy at Law, partly a detective story, was set in the legal world just after the outbreak of WWII.  Among Hare's books, this was his own favorite. Mr Justice Barber, known unofficially as the "Shaver," and journeying with his butler from court to court, receives threatening notes and a mysterious stranger arranges nasty surprises for him. Nothing much happens until on page 253 out of a total of 290: the dagger gets thrust between his shoulders. Pettigrew appears as an amateur detective, who doesn't have much pages between the murder and its solution. But he beats Inspector Mallet by explaining the legal issues related to the murder. Lars Ole Sauerberg has argued that "there are implications of a Greek tragedy in the judge's hubris of ignoring insurance and neglecting the traffic code. The nemesis striking makes him end up as a victim rather than a laughing stock." (The Legal Thriller from Gardner to Grisham: See you in Court! by Lars Ole Sauerberg, 2016, p. 85) This work has stood well the test of time, and was reissued in 2009.

In With a Bare Bodkin Hare returned to the atmosphere of WW II. The story is set in a remote part of Britain, Marsett Bay, where Francis Pettigrew and his civil service branch is sent to escape the Blitz. Hare keeps the pace slow, plays with the labyrinth of fiction within fiction, and murder doesn't occur until halfway through the book. When the Wind Blows portrays Pettigrew as a reluctant detective. At this point of his life, he is married and lives in the imaginary southern county of Markshire. The murder of a violinist upsets the peace of the small town. 

In An English Murder (1951) Hare used the conventional setting (a country house) and the usual suspect (there is a butler), but managed to come out with an original and fresh tale. An English Christmas party is disturbed by a murder and the history professor Dr. Wenceslaus Bottwink, a Jewish Czech concentration camp survivor, starts to help Scotland Yard. With a sharp eye on British peculiarities, he solves the crime. The Guardian has listed this cozy mystery among the top 10 Christmas crime stories.

Curiously, in spite of the Cold War, the book was released as a two-part television film in 1974 the Soviet Union under the title Christo angliyskoe ubiystvo (A Very English Murder), directed by Samson Samsonov and produced by Mosfilm. Alexei Batalov, famous from Mikhail Kalatozov's film Letyat zhuravli (The Cranes Are Flying, 1957), played the role of  Dr. Bottwink; Ivan Pereverzev was the butler.

Hare was invited to join the Detection Club in 1946. Along with Michael Gilbert, Anthony Berkeley, John Dickson Carr, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, and other member of the Club, Hare carried the Golden Age tradition into the late 1950s. From 1950, he served as County Court Judge in Surrey. Hare's duties concerned civil disputes only. Cyril Hare died on 25 August, 1958, at the peak of his career. His last Pettigrew story was He Should Have Died Hereafter, in which Pettigrew and his old friend Inspector Mallett solve the mystery of a disappeared body in Exmoor.

"It was all of fifty years since he had last seen a hunted deer and now the sight of it in some way dispelled the enchantment of reminiscene in which he had been living up to that moment. Willy-nilly, he found himself looking at the hapless beast through the eyes of the elderly, urban humanitarian who had somehow evolved from that small boy."

This sight leads Pettigrew to recall an experience of his childhood, which he had buried: he found a dead man in his childhood in Bolter's Tussock and left it there. The nightmare repeats itself when he again stumbles over a body on the moor. However, Pettigrew realizes that there must be a perfectly rational explanation to the whole thing and finds the answer from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Hare's later stories and articles were published in Illustrated London News and The Law Journal.

Best Detective Stories of Cyril Hare (1959; US title: Death Among Friends and Other Detetive Stories, 1959), included two Pettigrew adventures and an introduction by Michael Gilbert, his friend and fellow-lawyer. Hare's Tragedy at Law fell in the hands of Gilbert in 1943 while he was a prisoner of war on the Adriatic coast of Italy. "It was in such circumstances that an orderly delivered to us, one day, along with our lunch of pasta and diced meat-loaf, a tattered copy of Tragedy at Law. The excitement was intense. The only other reading matter available to us at the time was a week-old Italian newspaper devoted to accounts of Axis victories in Sicily and Pantellaria, and a Complete Works of Milton." (Ibid., p. 7) The book inspired Gilbert later in his career as a mystery writer. According to Gilbert, Hare had a striking physical resemblance to Sherlock Holmes: "The thin, inquisive nose, the intellectual forehead, the piercing eye, the Oxford common-room voice." (Ibid., p. 8)

Hare was not a prolific short story writer, but he nevertheless contributed stories to three CWA (the Crime Writers' Association) anthologies, Choise of Weapons (1958), edited by Michael Gilbert, Planned Departures (1958), edited by Elizabeth Ferrars, and Some Like Them Dead (1960), edited by Roy Vickers. 'Name of Smith' (1952), first published in the Evening Standard, illustarates Hare's ability to inject into his stories questions about truth and justice without being didactic. Based mostly on dialogue, it tells of a judge, "an old ruffian," whose soft side is revealed to his colleagues only after his death. The story was reperinted in Mysterious Pleasures (2003), celebrating the 50th anniversary of CWA. In 'An Unpleasant Man,' set in an English village close to an American airbase, the detective sergeant solves a crime, when the murdered makes a mistake by using an American expression.

For further reading: Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection by Chris Steinbrunner, Otto Penzler (1976); 'Hare, Cyril' by Charles Shibuk, in Twentieth Century Crime & Mystery Writers, edited by John M. Reilly (1980); 'Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare (1942),' in Crime & Mystery: The 100 Best Books by H.R.F. Keating (1987); 'Hare, Cyril,' in The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery by Bruce F. Murphy (1999); 'Hare, Cyril,' by Martin Edwards, in Whodunit?: A Who's Who in Crime & Mystery Writing, edited by Rosemary Herbert (2003); 'Cyril Hare (1900-58) UK,' in 100 Must-Read Crime Novels by Richard Shepard and Nick Rennison (2010); The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story by Martin Edwards (2015); The Legal Thriller from Gardner to Grisham: See you in Court! by Lars Ole Sauerberg (2016) - See other lawyer-authors: Erle Stanley Gardner, Michael Gilbert

Selected works:

  • Tenant for Death, 1937
    - Tuomari ja tuomitut (suom. Kalevi Nyytäjä, 1993)
  • Death Is No Sportsman, 1938
    - Kuolema ja kalamiehet (suom. Irmeli Ruuska, 1991)
  • Suicide Expected, 1939
  • Tragedy at Law, 1942
  • With a Bare Bodkin, 1946
  • The Magic Bottle, 1946 (juvenile; illustrated by W. Turner)
  • When the Wind Blows, 1949 (US title: The Wind Blows Death, 1950)
  • 'Blackmail – With Loving Greetings,' 1949 (in The Evening Standard, December 23, as 'Sister Bessie or Your Old Leech,' in Best Detective Stories, 1959)
    - TV drama 1955, A Present from Bessie, in the Theatre Royal (US title: Lilli Palmer Theatre), screenplay Giles Cooper, dir. Don Chaffey, with Griffith Jones, Cecile Chevreau, George Rose, Elizabeth Kentish, Beatrice Varley
  • An English Murder, 1951
    - Film: Chisto angliyskoe ubiystvo, 1974, screenplay Edgar Smirnov, Vadim Yusov, dir. Samson Samsonov, with Aleksey Batalov, Boris Ivanov, Faime Jurno, Einari Koppel, Irina Muravyova, Leonid Obolensky, Ivan Pereverzev, Eugenia Pleskite, Georgi Taratorkin.
  • Roscoe's Criminal Evidence: The Law, Evidence and Practice in Criminal Cases, 1952 (16th ed., editor, as A.A. Gordon Clark, with Alan Garfitt)
  • That Yew Tree's Shade, 1954 (US title: Death Walks in the Woods, 1954)
  • Leith Hill Musical Festival 1905-1955: A Record of Fifty Years of Music Making in Surrey, 1955 (editor, as A.A. Gordon Clark)
  • The House of Warbeck, 1955 (play)
  • He Should Have Died Hereafter, 1958 (US title: Untimely Death, 1958)
  • Best Detective Stories of Cyril Hare, 1959 (edited by Michael Gilbert; US title: Death Among Friends and Other Detective Stories, Perennial Library, 1959)
    - Syyllinen, syyllisempi, viaton (suom. 1988)
  • 'A Surprise for Christmas,' 2021 (originally published in 1959; in A Surprise for Christmas and Other Seasonal Mysteries, edited and with an Introduction by Martin Edwards)

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