1940s Crime

Tragedy At Law – Cyril Hare

Tragedy at Law was originally published in 1942 and P.D. James states that it is

…regarded by many lawyers as the best English detective story set in the legal world.

This book was written during the golden age of crime and it’s Englishness just oozes out of the pages. I was laughing out loud at certain passages, as the society described in this book just doesn’t exist any more. The characters are so posh! There was one section in the book where someone tries to poison the judge with a chocolate which has been cut in half, poison added to the centre and then resealed. It was thought to be a terribly planned crime, and soon discovered, as no-one would be so rude as to eat a chocolate in one mouthful – it is a very good job they don’t see me with a box of chocolates!

The book focuses on Mr Justice Barber, a high Court Judge, who is being threatened with anonymous letters and the chocolates mentioned above. He moves from town to town presiding over court cases in Southern England. We get a detailed look into what the legal system was like during this period of history, and I think that it would be fascinating to anyone in this profession or with a strong interest in the history of justice, but have to admit that some of it went over my head.

The mystery itself is light and fun to read and it was great to be reminded of what life was like 70 years ago, but I think this book is more suited to the older generation who want to reminisce a bit or to real crime fiction fans who like to study the development of the crime novel. I’m pleased that I read it, but don’t think I’ll read any of his other books.


I read this for Cornflower’s Book Group. If you’d like to know what other people thought of  Tragedy at Law then take a look at her blog, as we will be disccusing this book there tomorrow.

5 replies on “Tragedy At Law – Cyril Hare”

“…It’s Englishness just oozes out of the pages”. A bit of old fashioned Englishness sounds very appealing to me. Recently there was a great piece on the US-based “Morning News” site extolling the pleasures of Radio 4 and how it seems to perpetuate an older, more dignified, more intelligent and more interesting England than the one most of its residents actually live in. “Tragedy at Law” sounds as though it would appeal to Radio 4 fans like me.

I quite like posh characters in books, probably more so than in real life, though funnily enough my work colleagues seem to think I’m a bit posh myself. When there was all that fuss about the MP’s moat, one colleague said he could just imagine my house having a moat. I actually live in a modest semi with no off street parking – and I don’t own it!

I must put “Tragedy at Law” on my list of books to get hold of. Thanks for once again giving me more reading inspiration. I’ve now tried three more of the books you mentioned on the Desmond Elliot Prize long list, in addition to the one I had already read. I’ve only just started “Girl in a Blue Dress” which I am enjoying so far. I loved “The Rescue Man” but loathed “Never, Never” (see my librarything review for full details). It seems right now that the older or more old-fashioned a book is, the most likely it is to appeal to me. Having said this I doubt I’ll be reaching for “Beowulf” this weekend!

Sorry to hear you’ve been poorly. (Assuming it is not too impertinent for someone you do not know to say such things?)

I think that this book will really appeal to fans of Radio 4! I do like listening to Radio 4 sometimes, but I can see why you refer to it when mentioning this book – it does have that intelligent, dignified feel about it.

I plan to read “Never, Never” soon as I lived in West Cumbria during the mid 90s. I’ll be interested to see how it is portrayed. I also have Blackmoor here and am looking forward to it.

I don’t think it is impertinent to mention illnesses to people you don’t know well, but then I’m not very posh!

Thank you for the great comment!

I’ve just finished Tragedy at Law and, while I like it, there was something missing for me. It might just be that is a book for a quieter time in life and so I’ll probably try Cyril Hare again, just not immediately. I notice that a couple of his books have been published as Faber Finds, which I think is an encouraging sign. Time will tell!

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