Monday, October 20, 2008

An Exmoor mystery: 'He Should Have Died Hereafter' by Cyril Hare

Whilst doing research on crime fiction in the South West of England I stumbled upon 'He Should Have Died Hereafter' by Cyril Hare, set mainly on Exmoor.

This book was published posthumously in 1957, and is a slim 140 pages - crime and mystery fiction could get away with being considerably shorter for much of the 20th century, it seems. Bannered as an Inspector Mallett mystery ( of which there were a further four) this story is in fact told mainly from the point of view of Hare's other series protagonist, Francis Pettigrew, a retired lawyer of the Queen's Bench.

This is a mystery of the old school: Hare was known for his ingenious plots, and as a lawyer and judge himself, his description of the legal process and finer points of law upon which his plot turns is clear and well-integrated.

The Exmoor setting is richly evoked and creatively employed, though he points out himself in an author's note that Exmoor is a real place but he has invented the specific localities in the story.

Hare deploys a couple of huge coincidences early on in the plot, but they are deftly introduced and did not trouble this reader over-much. 'He Should Have Died Hereafter' (despite the title, the plot owes nothing to 'Macbeth' - or his Lady) was an intriguing afternoon's read, and I have already ordered from the library two of Hare's other classic stories: 'Tragedy At Law' (one of H.R.F. Keating's 100 best crime and mystery books) and 'An English Murder' - apparently a twist on the isolated country-house murder.

Hare only wrote nine crime novels, but it's always pleasing to discover a 'new' writer of mystery puzzles of the classic kind - even if I am fifty years too late!