|Mallett & Pettigrew
(creator: Cyril Hare)
Detective-Inspector Mallett of Scotland Yard is a tall stout man with a marked reluctance to delay his lunch (which he described as "an important appointment"). He is described as "a very tall, very broad man,with a mild red face with an unexpectedly ferocious-looking moustache". He is both subtle and shrewd (a "beefy man with a nimble brain"), and quick to gain the confidence of interviewees. Beyond that, and the fact that his wife came from Exmoor and had died before Pettigrew and his wife go there on holiday in the final story, we know little about him. There is nothing else about his personal or previous life, and we're not even told his first name (the author's son thinks his name was John, but we don't seem to be told that anywhere). But he remains a formidable character when it comes to tackling crime.
Francis Pettigrew, who appears in some of the books with Inspector Mallett and in others by himself, is a shrewd but disillusioned old barrister who had never got the further promotion he had wanted: "Everything had promised well at first, and everything had turned out ill". "Circuit life was the breath of his nostrils. Year by year he had travelled it from Marhampton right round to Eastbury, less and less hopeful of any substantial earnings, but certain always of the rewards that good fellowship brings."
Mallett and Pettigrew are the creations of Cyril Hare which was the pseudonym of Judge Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark (1900-1958). Clark was educated at Rugby (where, he says, he was starved of food and crammed with learning) before getting a First in History at New College, Oxford. He was called to the Bar in 1924, then worked as a barrister in the criminal courts until the Second World War, when he served on the staff of the Director of Public Prosecutions. In 1950 he became a County Court judge dealing with civil cases, so unfortunately had less time for writing. He had begun by writing light pieces for Punch and similar magazines, and had only started writing detective stories at the age of 36. He took the name Cyril Hare by combining his London home, Cyril Mansions in Battersea, with his law chambers ith the Temple, Hare Court.
His book Tragedy at Law fell in the hands of Michael Gilbert while he was a prisoner of war during WW II, and, after the war, the two men became friends. Gilbert also edited the posthumous Best Detective Stories of Cyril Hare (1959. See below).
Tenant for Death (1937)
Death is No Sportsman (1938)
Suicide Excepted (1939)
I particularly enjoyed the realistic way in which the amateur detectives were shown the door by a suspect, and how they were put into their place by their solicitor: "You people," he told them,"took it upon yourselves to prove that the late Mr Dickinson was murdered. I dare say he was ... (but) you have gone about it in a way that I can only decribe as imbecile". It sometimes seems a pity that some other amateur detectives aren't treated as briskly!
Mallett himself doesn't play a major part in the story, and it is only through a coincidence that he eventually realises what has happened. But it's a book I enjoyed - although, if you read the 1956 Penguin edition, you'll find that a helpful plan of the hotel has accidentally been omitted.
Tragedy at Law (1942)
Odd things happen to the judge, starting with a gift of (slightly) poisoned chocolates until eventually, as anonymous letters have warned him, his life is in real danger. The strength of the story arises out of the author's own experience of legal dignitaries and of the courts, and there are entertaining pen portraits of English eccentrics, starting with the judge himself: " 'No trumpeters!' said his Lordship in a tone of melancholy and slightly peevish disapproval." This was the sort of welcome he'd come to expect, regardless of the fact that this was all happening in wartime England: "War with all its horror was let loose upon the earth and His Majesty's Judge must in consequence creep into his car with no more ceremony than an ambassador or an archbishop." Never mind. he's still got the High Sheriff, his own chaplain dressed in black silk, the Judge's Clerk, the Judge's Marshal (Hare himself had been one of these, once as a very young man and again at the beginning of the war, so the story is written with real inside knowledge), the Judge's Butler, the Marshal's Man, and a cavernous Rolls Royce. And his views are nothing if not fixed: "I should be strongly in favour of the execution of far more criminals today, The Habitual Thief, for example, or the reckless motorist". It is soon after this that he he himself has too much to drink and runs someone over, driving a car he'd forgotten to insure and having a driving licence he'd failed to renew.
Among other unusual but interesting characters is barrister Francis Pettigrew, who had previously had a love affair with Hilda, but she had rejected him to become the judge's wife. The stolid Detective Inspector Mallett plays a smaller part.
There are amusing jokes about the pomposity of the law and its characters, although the pace sometimes seems rather slow for modern tastes. However, for those with the patience to persist, it remains an interesting and entertaining account of a way of life that has been much diminished if not entirely gone. And many of the legal cracks still ring true: "Things oughtn't to be hushed up," says young Derek Marshall (who actually is the Marshal!). "After all, there is such a thing as justice ..." "Good Lord! This sort of talk will never do if you mean to be a lawyer," Pettigrew reproved him. "I'm afraid you suffer from ideals". Recommended.
With a Bare Bodkin (1946)
Amongst the staff there is a Mr Wood who, under another name, has published detective stories, although he "was not exactly a best seller". His presence inspires them all to develop The Plot, a game in which they imagine a murder being committed at Pin Control. But who is to be the murderer? The novelist suggests it must be the least likely person or "Where's your puzzle?". Pettigrew comments that in real life, "The police nearly always pick on the obvious person. And it is distressing to observe that they are nearly always right".
Down at the local pub, Pettigrew bumps into none other than Inspector Mallett, whas been sent up north to look into a breach of security at Pin Control. Then one of the staff really is murdered, and Mallett leads the police investigation. He gets a bit tired and grumpy in the process. When a difficult interviewee tells him, "It's no use your trying to use third degree methods on me. If I choose to say nothing, I suppose I can", Mallett replies, "Nowadays people of your sort usually call them 'Gestapo methods'. You should try to be a little more up to date. And, by the way. if you should find yourself under police observation from now on don't write to your M.P. (Member of Parliament) about it. He might want to know why you're not in the army. Run along now, before I forget I'm a policeman and give you a good smacking". But, with Pettigrew's help, he is eventually able to solve the case.
There's some good fun at the expense of the wartime civil service and all the bureaucracy involved, but this isn't really one of Hare's most interesting books. But the ending is surprising: Pettigrew falls In love with a much younger girl: "I am old, I am unattractive, I am unsuccessful. I am crotchety and quirky and set in my ways. I am given to futile little jokes and I have been known to drink too much. I am utterly unfitted to marry anybody, let alone a girl of your age. But ..."
When the Wind Blows (1949. US title: The Wind Blows Death)
Inspector Trimble of the City Division of the Markshire County Constabulary is put in charge of the murder investigation, but he isn't too bright, so his Chief Constable quietly persuades Pettigew to help behind the scenes. Pettigrew identifies the guilty party, and it's all done with such discretion that Trimble fondly imagines that he's solved the case himself (even if he doesn't quite understand how) and condescendingly tells Pettigrew, "If I may say so, your assistance has been most valuable". Hearing this, "the Chief Constable choked over his fifth whisky and soda". As Pettigew said earlier in the story, "This is a lesson to me, Inspector, to leave the business of detection to my betters". Perhaps. Anyway, it's a good story written with obvious real affection for the musical background, and for old Pettigrew himself. He's a much more interesting and rounded character than his friend Inspector Mallett, who gets a mention but doesn't appear in this story.
An English Murder (1951. US title: The Christmas Murder)
Trimble, now a Detective-Superintendent (the undeserved promotion came after his work in When the Wind Blows when he was really given the solution by Pettigrew), is only too happy to take charge, but he's still not the world's greatest detective: "It's an extraordinary thing," he suddenly exploded, "that every damned thing that I find out through hard work and investigation along the proper lines turns out to be common knowledge already to all and sundry up and down the place". Then he warns Pettigrew off: "I'd be much obliged if you'd leave criminal investigation to those whose duty it is to do it". But it is Pettigrew (discretely encouraged by the Chief Constable) who sees a connection with the real-life case of Crippen that enables Trimble to make the eventual arrest.
This is another witty and inventive story with excellent cameos of most of the characters, including a Mrs Pink ("an exceptionally good woman... but also more than ordinarily obstinate. And rather stupid as well. Isn't it lamentable, by the way, how often those three adjectives go together?") and a Mr Rose ("a callous, selfish brute. He brings destruction and misery wherever he goes. A man of extraordinary charm, generous and kind-hearted." "Well?", said Eleanor (Pettigrew's wife), "Which is he? He can't be both." "Indeed he can. That's what makes him so dangerous.") And you can't help but share in the author's sympathy for Trimble's long-suffering subordinates. Altogether an entertaining read.
He Should Have Died Hereafter (1958. US title: Untimely Death)
It was Michael Gilbert who chose and introduced Best Detective Stories of Cyril Hare (posthumously published in 1959. US title: Death Among Friends) which includes some particularly good legal/criminal short stories, of which two feature Pettigrew, and another two include Mallett. In the introduction, Gilbert includes a description of Hare himself: 'The thin, inquisitive nose, the intellectual forehead, the piercing eye, the Oxford common-room voice ... He was a fine speaker" not only in court, and in debate, but on "those more flippant occasions of after-dinner oratory at which he excelled. He died at the height of his career .. No doubt, when we come to it, this is an excellent way to go; but it is sad for those of us who are left".
There is biographical information about Hare on the Pegasos site, and comments on all his books on the Mystery List site. See also his son's entry in my Guest Book.
|This hardback cover well captures the mood of the book. The paperback cover (below) looks less fun.