Untimely Death by Cyril Hare (1957) aka He Should Have Died Hereafter

When Francis Pettigrew was a boy on holiday in Exmoor, he stumbled onto the body of a dead man on Bolter’s Tussock. Now he and his wife Eleanor are on holiday in Exmoor, staying at Sallowcombe, the same farmhouse in where stayed in his childhood. To exorcist his childhood memory Pettigrew revisits Bolter’s Tussock. He finds many things have changed, but his worst nightmare comes back to haunt him when, on that same remote hill, he stumbles onto the body of a dead man. This time though, the body mysteriously disappears, only to be discovered days later—back in the same spot.

He Should Have Died Hereafter is a short novel, which I easily read in the course of an afternoon. The mystery is relatively lightweight. It felt as if Hare was using the story more as a means of bringing Pettigrew and Inspector Mallett (not seen in the series since With a Bare Bodkin) together for a reunion for the last of his eight novels. The disappointment of the book is that there isn’t a great deal of detection, and in truth practically none by Pettigrew and Mallett. But their afternoon surveillance picnic was a bit of fun. 

There is the usual obscure legal point, but it is well handled, and for once explained, in an entertaining scene of proceedings in the Chancery court. And in the end Pettigrew arrives at the truth with the aid of a classic in detective fiction which provides an interesting twist. 

Hare writes with lovely wry humor, here mostly at the expense of Pettigrew. In particular, the sequence detailing his ride on a wayward Exmoor pony is a delight. He also created a number of interesting characters, particularly the Gorman clan, yet leaves them barely sketched out. It was something of a disappointment that their potential is never fully realized.

It’s been a delight watching as Hare transformed Pettigrew from down-on-his luck Circuit barrister, who would happily have spent his life as such, into a fulfilled and happily married man. Mallett on the other hand never changes, he remains inquisitive, incisive, and understated—and his “reputation as a trencherman” remains intact. A lightness of touch made this a pleasure to read, but only a fair to middling send off for Pettigrew and Mallet.

My Judgment – 3.75/5

Prior Rulings – The Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Nick @ The Grandest Game in the World, Patrick @ At the Scene of the Crime

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – 2011 Vintage Mystery Challenge – Book 9 of 16

List of Cyril Hare’s work with links to my reviews

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