Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tenant for Death

Tenant for Death - Cyril Hare

First published in 1937, Tenant for Death is the first novel by Cyril Hare, a Golden Age crime writer cast in the same mold as methodical Freeman Wills Crofts (Inspector French’s Greatest Case) and ratiocinating E.C. Bentley (Trent’s Last Case). This mystery introduces Hare’s series detective, Inspector Mallett.

A crooked financier’s scams have gone all ahoo. He is found strangled in a dreary rented house in middle-class South Kensington. The renter of the house has disappeared. Inspector Mallett of the Yard mentors his young assistant Frant as they flush out the culprit.

I’d been getting a little tired of the Golden Age settings of country manors, universities, and high class men’s clubs, so I was happy to read a mystery set out in the world and populated with various kinds of people. Mallett employs different techniques to coax information out of real estate agents, newspaper hawkers, and the financier’s oily secretary, mistress, and subordinates.  The many characters are convincing. The pace is steady, with typical mystery writer’s improbable coincidences and tricks to spin things out in the last quarter or so.  Of course, it’s dated, but I think it can be read with enjoyment in 2015.

Judge Gordon Clark (Hare’s real name) worked in the criminal justice system and took to writing fiction at the age of 36 in order to augment his income. His grammar is not elaborate, his vocabulary is educated but he doesn’t use out-of-the-way words. His plotting, style, and subtle wit make up for his mild upper-class snootiness about class differences. Hare kept up the high standard he set in this premier outing so his later mysteries are well worth reading too: Suicide Excepted (1939), When the Wind Blows (1949), An English Murder (1951), and Untimely Death (1958).

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