On Friday 13, November Mr. Colin James entered 27 Upper Daylesford Street with an unknown gentleman. Almost an hour later he is seen leaving, alone, never to be seen again. Three days later two young men are sent to the house to inventory its contents, as Mr. James has vacated the premises. Upon arrival, they find something that isn’t on the inventory, the body of Lionel Ballantine. Mr. Ballantine just happens to have disappeared amidst rumors that his company, The London and Imperial Estates Company, Ltd, and its eleven associated companies (aka The Twelve Apostles) was in financial trouble. Enter Inspector Mallet to investigate, and discover that Mr. James is far from being the only suspect.
Tenant for Death, published in 1937, is the first novel written by Cyril Hare, and introduces Inspector Mallett. Having only ever seen the Inspector in Suicide Excepted (in which he has a very peripheral role) I enjoyed meeting him for the first time and following his investigation.
The novel has a great plot in which Hare has devised a complex mystery, filled it with clues, red-herrings, and great characters. I enjoyed the way in which Hare uses of the character Detective-Sergeant Frant, allowing Mallet to present and think through clues, when he’s not doing it by taking a nap that is. Even with all of the clues present, he is able to surprise you with the identity of the culprit. I know I will never again read a Cyril Hare novel and think that I know whodunit. Everytime, he fools me everytime! But I think I’m in pretty good company, since both the José and TomCat were also surprised by the ending (please take a look at their reviews linked below).
Every character is rendered in a way that makes them distinctive and memorable. Hare makes personalities of peripheral characters, such as newspaper seller Jackie Roach and theatrical costumer Old Mrs. Bradbury, just as vivid as those of more central characters. There is also much subtle humor (i.e. the aforementioned napping by Mallet, and his infamous appetite) that adds to the entertainment.
My only quibble would be the fact that the pace did slow just prior to the end, where Hare seems to be tying up some loose ends. But, even with that, I think this is a great read which I highly recommend.
My Judgement – 4.5/5