Warbeck Hall should be the perfect place to celebrate Christmas. Family and friends have gathered and the snow thick on the ground. But all is not well here. Lord Warbeck is dying, and
this gathering will presumably be the last Christmas at the hall. The atmosphere is less than genial, and the guests far from kindly to each other. During the course of Christmas Eve, a blizzard rages outside, while inside tensions rise and tempers flare. As the church bells chime in midnight, Robert, Lord Warbeck’s son and heir, drinks his celebratory glass of champagne, and immediately falls dead. Who is responsible? Cut off by the storm, with no communication to the outside, no one is getting in or out. Will any of them survive to tell the tale?
You would think from the title and description that this story would be the quintessential English manor house mystery, and in some ways it is, but it is really so much more. Hare makes use of an ingenious plot, coupled with gentle humor wit a hint of irony, and a varied cast of characters, to make some very pointed commentaries regarding class distinctions, race, religion, sex, and politics of the day.
But for one, the characters that Hare brings together are an interesting, but very English assortment. Robert Warbeck, is the head of the neo-fascist group; Sir Julius, his cousin and Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose socialist reforms have lead to difficult times for the aristocracy; Camilla, his dead wife’s niece, who at one time had more than a friendship with Robert; Mrs. Carstairs, his wife’s best friend, an ambitious woman, married to the Sir Julian’s younger colleague; the family butler Briggs, and his daughter Susan, who has some unknown connection with Robert, and Detective Sergeant Rogers, Sir Julius’ Special Branch protection officer, who investigates the murder. And into this party Hare brings Dr. Wenceslaus Bottwink, a Jewish historian researching the family past, as “a disregarded spectator in the shadow’s.” He believes his knowledge of England to be imperfect, but in reality he knows and understands these people better than he, or they think.
I had several theories about the culprit throughout, but when I finally I had the who, it took a bit to figure out the why. Unfortunately, I unlike Bottwink, I have very little (let’s just say none really) knowledge of esoteric British history and parliamentary law. Do not let that sway you from reading this though. This was a really fun read.
After just finishing Suicide Excepted, and hoping that binge overload would not occur, I dove right in for some more Cyril Hare. I was not disappointed in my choice. No overload, and now I want more!
My Judgement– 4.5