The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

Tenant for Death, Tragedy at Law, and With a Bare Bodkin

by Cyril Hare Book Reviews

Amazon called my attention to Cyril Hare when its algorithms exposed me as a fan of English murder mysteries, police procedurals, and Rumpole of the Bailey. Hare’s protagonist in Tragedy at Law and With a Bare Bodkin is a middle-aged barrister, Francis Pettigrew, who is about as financially unsuccessful as Horace Rumpole, but who works on the civil side. In short, if you like Rumpole, you will be glad to discover Cyril Hare.

Hare, whose pseudonymous author was a barrister and later a county court judge himself, flourished as a writer during the 1930s and through the World War II years, so his portrait of judges and lawyers presents the high level of pomp, circumstance, and ceremony of that era of English courts in a manner that gave me a bit of nostalgia for the old days and a good laugh, along with gratitude that those uber-formalities are behind us. (Tragedy at Law)

In With a Bare Bodkin, Hare captures the role that private lawyers were drafted to play in the operation of many war-required government regulatory commissions, including Pettigrew’s particular assignment to the Department of Pin Control. Pettigrew is frank about this job: “As Legal Adviser to the Control, I am going to be a person of some consequence” in applying the Pin Restrictions (No. 3) Order, 1940. And yes, that is “pins,” as in “needles-and-.”

Pettigrew is joined by Scotland Yard Inspector Mallett in With a Bare Bodkin, but Inspector Mallett goes it alone in Tenant for Death (and other Cyril Hare books), where he juggles clues based on a victim’s tailoring, a bank failure, and a disappearing tenant.

Although his books are well-constructed murder mysteries, Hare’s frank but affectionate recognition that courtroom personnel can and often do trip over their own egos adds humor and an additional bonus for the lawyer-reader.

Nancy Wear is a litigation and appellate lawyer in Coral Gables.