Tenant for Death - Cyril Hare

This is one of those curious books that could have been remarkable but misses by enough to make it only competent in the end.


I think the problem is that Hare undervalues the things that he's good at and spends too much time on things he doesn't do well.


I like his subtle, wry, always present humour. I admire the way he can draw people with a few deft strokes, like a street portrait painter.


I find his way telling his story by cutting from scene to scene with minimal exposition to be very effective in a cinematic, surprisingly modern way.


The central conceit of the plot is clever and well displayed, giving me tantalising insights that kept me guessing but not enough insight to be right. 


Where the whole thing sinks like an under-baked sponge cake is in the back and forth between the Inspector and his underling. I gut the impression that Hare saw this as one of the better parts of the book, the thing that made it into a detective story of merit. ( I blame Conan Doyle for infecting detective stories with ideas like these), yet I found this endless theorising and capricious withholding of data and conclusions to be tedious, improbable and sometimes actually annoying.


There are also things where it is polite to say that the book is a product of its time - the inspectors acceptance of lavish hospitality from the brother of the Lord he is investigating, the use of the old school tie to attempt to protect the guilty, the dubious disposition of the killer's wealth - all of these things and Hare's unthinking acceptance of them made me grit my teeth. But then, that's how things were and how our current corrupt, incompetent, Eton-radicalised leaders would like it to be again. 


This was Hare's first novel, so I'm hoping that he learns to value his own talent more and puts aside the clumsy find-the-lady act in future novels.