Today’s read is set in the rural village of Didford Parva, which has some very good fishing grounds. Post WW1, 4 men form a syndicate for some fishing rights there and in the intervening years, 3 of the old members have left the group, one via death, one due to ill health and another due to financial difficulties. Only Robert Matheson is an original group member. The three newcomers are lawyer Stephen Smithers, business manager Theodore Wrigley-Bell and Jimmy Rendel, the son of an original member. Yet things are far from idyllic due to the owner of the local manor Sir Peter Packer, who has made legal difficulties for the syndicate in the past and has even set up a saw mill near the river to disturb them. He is also not above betraying a business colleague, nor being unfaithful to his wife – in fact the first day of the narrative sees the birth of his illegitimate child to a local woman. It is not surprising that his own wife has been spending an awful lot of time with Rendel lately. It is equally not surprising when the next day Sir Packer is found dead, shot through the head, the weapon nowhere in sight. Of course everyone was in and around the river bank that day and due to various other difficulties Cyril Hare’s serial sleuth, Inspector Mallett, is called in to solve the case.
Overall I think this was a mixed reading experience. For instance with the characters there were some which were great to encounter and others you’d probably quite like to punch. For the former of these I’d definitely nominate Mrs Large, who is introduced in the following way: ‘To say that Mrs Large was the wife of the Rector of Didford Magna would be, as anyone who knew her would really agree, a gross understatement. Rather it was the Rector who […] was spoken of, if at all, as Mrs Large’s husband.’ Now normally the busybody character who everyone with a remotely guilty conscience tries to avoid, is not a normally a character who appeals to me, but I liked how Hare handled her and gave her a more comic role. As to characters who I’d definitely not be sending a Christmas card to, I think Smithers probably tops that list. Can’t say he makes the world’s best first impression on the reader, spouting opinions such as ‘Women are lawless cattle by nature […] Our ancestors were sensible enough to recognise it, the ridiculous modern idea that they can be treated like reasonable beings.’ However in fairness to Hare I don’t think he was trying to make him into a character the reader would like as a person. Finally when it comes to the characters I think Hare produces an interesting, though not new, variation on the love interest.
As you might have guessed there is a definite angling theme to the story, with some of the clues having a fishing theme. However, for us non-anglers, there is not too much technical information about this hobby and the reader may well feel more aligned with Inspector Mallett who puts his foot in it a few times with his angling ignorance. There is a thorough investigation in this tale, with various clues and witness statements for the reader to mull over. I don’t think this is the most exciting of mysteries, but the writing style has some charm and the tale is a solid effort by Hare, with the pace not being too bad. Although the solution is a little disappointing in that it relies on an old trick, which the reader is not really prepared for in advance and the motivation for the criminal felt a little weak. On the whole this was a middling novel by Hare, so if you are new to this author I would recommend trying Suicide Excepted (1939) and An English Murder (1951) first.
Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): Death by shooting
Tenant for Death (1937)
With a Bare Bodkin (1946)
When the Wind Blows (1949)