Tenant for Death (1937) by Cyril Hare

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Shadowy Figure

Image result for tenant for death cyril hare harper perennial

Rich at his blog Past Offences runs a monthly Crimes of the Century Challenge and this month’s chosen year is 1937, so I decided to review Cyril Hare’s first Inspector Mallett novel, Tenant for Death (1937). The opening chapters in this story, in contrast to my previous read, offer the reader a lot of plot threads and characters to grasp a hold of. We have a newspaper vendor noticing the unusual fact of local resident, Colin James, bringing a guest home for the first time since he began his tenancy. It is through the newspaper vendor that we also see James abruptly leave his property some time later, making even the most casual of mystery readers prick their ears up. We also have the disappearance of the financier Lionel Ballantine, whose business is soon to go under due to malpractice. There is also his nervy and edgy secretary Hector Du Pine, yet he is far from being a put upon or weak underling. There is a feeling of something distinctly sinister about him. A blast from Ballantine’s past also appears early on in the story, with John Fanshawe having been recently released from jail for fraud, a fraud which caused extensive ruin to many, all except Ballantine who may well have been involved. Young love also has its place in the opening sequence, with Susan and Frank wondering when they will have enough money to marry on. Frank hints a solution to their problems will arrive soon, though Susan can elicit no further information on how this money will be obtained. All of these threads combine when the Ballantine’s body is found in James’ home. With James’ no longer in residence, he is Inspector Mallett’s prime suspect and Hare creates a great deal of pleasing mystification over this character, as well as with others involved in the case, such as Frank, who unsurprisingly are all acting suspiciously one way or another. However Inspector Mallett is no infallible sleuth and events as the end of the story comes near do fall out of his grasp and control.

This is a mystery with a well-crafted and complex puzzle, which I think will give readers plenty of clues to get their teeth into, with new information giving further food for thought. Clues start very early on and there were quite a few that passed me by. There is a steady trickle of surprising event and information which helps maintain the pace on the whole. There is perhaps a slight reliance on a last minute piece of information, in order to get the reader thinking in the right direction and getting the case to draw to a close, but I think subsequent evidence which refers back to much earlier clues, means this didn’t feel like a swizz.

By and large Hare’s characterisation is strong and well executed. Even characters with small parts are memorable and nuanced. You get a real sense of who they are and I enjoyed following Inspector Mallett’s investigation. In later novels Mallett works with an amateur sleuth named Francis Pettigrew, but in this one I actually rather liked not having Pettigrew’s presence. In some ways I think it freed Mallett up and gave him more of the limelight. Equally the absence of Pettigrew meant there wasn’t any legal twist in this mystery. Hare uses the trope of the murdered financier to good effect in this story and he recreates the various milieus involved in his book effectively, making them seem real and distinct from one another. The ending wasn’t quite what I predicted and I think it was a little rushed, though it did show Inspector Mallett in a different light. In particular one character’s response to a dramatic event seemed oddly cool to say the least and didn’t really fit. I think if the ending had been a few pages longer these little inconsistencies could have been ironed out.

Image result for tenant for death cyril hare

Despite being a novel published near the end of the 1930s, there isn’t any mention of Fascism or any fears of an impending war with Germany. Communism makes a brief foray into the novel in the form of comic skit between a lorry driver and one of the suspects. However, through a rather reactionary character, comments are made on India and in particular on Mahatma Gandhi who the character believes is ‘the biggest enemy our Indian Empire has got.’ Suffice to say he isn’t impressed that his daughter has named her dog after him.

So all in all I think this was a strong first outing for Hare, balancing plot and character needs and due to the lack of legal twists, this is a mystery I think readers will feel they have more of a chance of solving. Hare has an entertaining writing style and he is mostly good when it comes to pacing in the story. In several respects I think Hare’s mystery will keep readers guessing until the end.

Rating: 4.25/5

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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16 Responses to Tenant for Death (1937) by Cyril Hare

  1. JJ says:

    Sounds like a good ol’ time, Kate. Not read any Hare myself, and know nothing about the man or his writing, so thanks for highlighting the puzzle aspect of this — I’ll get to it, like, at some point now that I know there’s a good yarn and a complex scheme here…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah this one definitely has a good puzzle factor. Either this one or Suicide Excepted would make for good introductions to Hare. I think Suicide Excepted might have been my first Hare novel. Thankfully his books are quite easy to get a hold of and do come up in charity shops from time to time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wasn’t a massive fan of the “classic” Tragedy At Law but might give this one a try, if I didn’t have a bucketload of 1937 of my own to read…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I didn’t enjoy TAL as much as well, but then its whole premise relies on an obscure part of the law, which can only be reached at by the end of the book, which meant the previous story did drag a bit. This book was freed from those constrictions and is more accessible. I’ve been very impressed with the amount of 1937 reads you have been doing. What total do you plan to reach?

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      • Two more Rhode books definitely and probably Vintage Murder as you know how much I admire Dame Ngaio. Maybe one more – possibly Hamlet, Revenge.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, possibly the Punshon or The Burning Court. Got a few requested reviews to squeeze in as well though.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow you are certainly going all out for 1937. Sounds like your reads will be a record number for Rich’s challenge. I haven’t read Innes’ novel and have been wondering whether it is worth giving Innes another chance, so I will definitely be interested to read your thoughts on that. From what I can remember Vintage Murder is not dire in relation to the rest of her output.

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      • JJ says:

        Let me save you some time: it is definitely not worth giving Innes another chance…. 😀

        Liked by 3 people

  3. JFW says:

    Sigh, yet another Hare title that isn’t stocked by my local Kindle store, but is worth reading – in fact, your comment about a strong puzzle without recourse to legal technicalities piqued my interest. Do you have any plans to review ‘Untimely Death’/ ‘He Should Have Died Hereafter’?

    Liked by 1 person

    • No I don’t have any immediate plans as I have already read that one. Looking at my goodreads ratings I don’t think I enjoyed that one as much as my two recent Hare reads. I think I might have found it a bit drier in style, as that is a pitfall Hare can fall into in some of his books. It does seem very odd that Hare is not readily available on Kindle given the fact that in the last decade or so he has been reprinted in paperback.

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    • cmikolj says:

      Hare’s work is in the public domain in Canada and is available for the Kindle at the Faded Page website. Just saying… I notice that many works from Life+50 public domain countries are turning up as Kindle reissues on Amazon so Hare might become more easily available soon.
      One of Hare’s best is An English Murder, which surely must have one of the most original motives for murder ever.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. jasonhalf says:

    A very enjoyable review, Kate. I had read a few Cyril Hare books years (most likely decades) ago, but am fairly certain Tenant for Death was not one of the titles, as nothing sounds even slightly familiar. I believe Suicide Excepted and Death Is No Sportsman was the sum of my Hare exposure… If I revisit him again, I will keep Tenant for Death in mind (and will stay away from Tragedy at Law).

    And I will continue to stay away from Michael Innes, whose Lament for a Maker left me fairly cold a long time ago. Apparently, from your and JJ’s comments, I’m not the only reader thus affected!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Yeah Tenant for Death or With Bare Bodkin would be good ones to try, since you have read my favourite, Suicide Excepted. He also did some short stories collected as, Best Detective Stories of Cyril Hare. Remember enjoying them as well. If Lament for a Maker is the only Innes novel you have read then you haven’t read Innes at his really really really bad. The only Innes novel I really enjoyed was What Happened at Hazelwood, which is a non-series one.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I read this a long time ago – so hard to remember my verdicts when it was pre-blogging days, one of the best things about the blog is that I can look up what I actually thought at the time of any given book! I presume I didn’t feel strongly either way – I quite enjoy Hare, but am never over-enthusiastic, and never want to read another one straightaway…

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    • Yeah I definitely agree that blogs are useful for remembering what you thought about a book. Hare is by no means an absolute favourite author but I think I have been lucky with my two most recent reads.

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