Mallett & Pettigrew

(creator: Cyril Hare)

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)
Tenant for Death, Cyril Hare's first book, involves a missing financier whose strangled body is found by two estate agents checking over the contents of an apartment. (One of them breaks the news to the other saying, "I think there's something here that isn't in the inventory".) Scotland Yard's Inspector Mallett, soon gets to work, linking the murder with the release from prison of an ex-banker, who'd been connected with a notorious fraud case. The characters are convincing and although the pace is rather slow by modern standards, it's written with wit and understanding so that, even if it is all a bit dated, the setting is interesting for the light it sheds on life at the time.

Death is No Sportsman (1938)
Death is No Sportsman involves a syndicate of four (three businessmen and a solicitor) who own the fishing rights to a section of river where a body is found. The local police are baffled so send for Scotland Yard, and Inspector Mallett arrives. He learns about dry fly-fishing (a subject that obviously much interested the author) and, helped by his new-found knowledge and locals like the inquisitive Mrs Large, the Rector's wife who made it her business to know everyone and everything, he thoroughly explores the scene of the crime, and,in his elusive and subtle way, eventually puzzles out what has happened. It's all written with humor and understanding, and the characters, unscrupulous although some of them are, are always interesting. Although an obvious period piece, there was still as much sexual misbehaviour then as now.

Suicide Excepted (1939)
Suicide Excepted is a well-told story (with some dramatic surprises) about the apparent suicide of Leonard Dickinson in a country house hotel where Inspector Mallett happens to be on holiday. If he committed suicide, though, his insurance company won't pay up, so most of the book is taken up by his family's search for a possible murderer among the other hotel guests. This is all done in an interesting and humorous way, with amusing portrayals of even lesser characters such as Mrs Howard-Blenkinsop ("a fairly stout woman of early middle age, who looked as if she owned the earth she walked on - which in fact she did") and The Rev. E.M.J.Carstairs ("A fluent talker on many subjects, bur principally about himself").

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)
Tragedy at Law is the best known of Cyril Hare's novels and was certainly his own favourite. It follows a distinctly pompous High Court judge, The Hon Sir William Hereward Barber, as he travels around southern England from one Assize Court to another at the start of the Second World War, accompanied by his entourage and his formidable wife, Hilda, who "devoted herself to the twin objects of fostering her husband's career and spending gracefully his steadily increasing earnings".

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)
With a Bare Bodkin is a wartime story in which Francis Pettigrew is sent up to Mursett Bay ("somewhere on the Polar Circuit") to become Legal Adviser to the government's Pin Control department (dealing with all aspects of the pin trade!). Hare had himself served in the Ministry of Economic Warfare at the start of the war, so knew exactly what he was poking fun at.

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)
When the Wind Blows sees now happily married Francis Pettigrew living, as he'd always wanted to, in a "pleas
ant spot on the Southern Circuit within comfortable reach of London, there to indulge in a genteel and strictly localized practice until such time as the staunchest clients should write him off as hopelessly senile". His wife plays a second violin for the Markhampton County Orchestral Society and he is roped in as treasurer. Then a clarinest goes missing and a soloist is strangled.

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)
An English Murder is a dated and comparatively uninteresting story about family murders in a nobleman's country house, cut off by snow, that are solved by the learned, if stereotyped, foreign professor, Dr Bottwink. As one of the guests is the Chancellor of the Exchequer (who can't do simple sums, a nice touch this), there's a nondescript sergeant from the Special Branch in attendance - but, unfortunately, neither Inspector Mallett or Frances Pettigrew. So no more about it need be said here. Mind you, there were those who admired it : the critic of the Irish Press described it as "the best crime story I have read for a long time". In fact it was q blown up version of a BBC play Murder at Warbeck Hall. Subsequently, the author's son told me, his "father wasted too much good writing time turning it into a stage play whch was put on once, in Margate, and never again".

That Yew Tree's Shade (1954. US title: Death Walks the Woods)
In That Yew Tree's Shade, Francis Pettigrew is called from retirement to preside over a nearby county court where he much enjoys himself, and ends up by identifying the murderer of one of the litigants.

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)
He Should Have Died Hereafter was published just shortly before the author's death. Pettigrew, long retired now, is on holiday with his wife on Exmoor when he finds a body on the moor , all very reminiscent of an unhappy experience when he'd been a boy there. Then Mallett too reappears: "Not Inspector," said Mallett. "Plain Mister. I retired after the war, with the rank of Superintendent." Pettigrew "looked into his wide, honest, intelligent face with something approaching affection".
The two men become increasingly involved in the case, and Pettigrew is even called as a witness in a Chancery case about an unusual legal point arising out of it. Eventually, Pettigrew sees the answer lies in an old Sherlock Holmes story. Although the Exmoor setting and the rural characters aren't made all that interesting, it is good to see the two main protagonists together again. It seems a pity that they are both retired, though.
The book was dedicated to the author's old friend, Michael Gilbert.

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.

New reprints of some of the books are available, used copies of the books can easily be found, and a good audio cassette of Tragedy at Law is available.

Please sign my GUEST BOOK. All comments, contributions (or corrections) welcomed!


Tragedy at Law
This hardback cover well captures the mood of the book. The paperback cover (below) looks less fun.

Tragedy at Law paperback
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