In the early days of World War II Gordon Clark (Cyril Hare was his pen name) was marshal to a circuit court judge. He uses this setting and this expereience to great effect in Tragedy at Law.
The Honourable Sir William Hereward Barber, Justice of the King’s Bench Division, is a circuit court judge. He travels from town to town on a circuit in the south of England hearing cases and dispensing justice.
Lady Barber, of course, accompanies him. She is a bright woman, younger than her husband, who has put her own ambition to one side to play the supportive wife. And then there is his legal entourage. They include Derek, his bright but inexperienced marshal; Beamish, the more experienced judge’s clerk, who maybe has something to hide; and Pettigrew, a capable barrister, and a ontemporary of the judge’s wife.
An interesting and well-drawn cast, they work and socialise together and effectively create their own little world on the road.
Cyril Hare writes about them wonderfully. His style is both elegant and witty and you really need to read slowly so that you can pick up and savour all the little details.
Then, of course, there is the mystery. The judge receives one threatening letter, then another, and then a poisoned box of his favourite box of chocolates. And so he comes to believe that somebody is trying to kill him. But who? And why?
The police investigate, Pettigrew makes his own enquiries, and a well constructed mystery builds towards a clever and unexpected denoument.
There is much to praise, but for me this book lacked that extra something that makes a really great mystery.
A good book I think, but not a great one.