With A Bare Bodkin by Cyril Hare

With a war on everyone must do their part, and barrister Francis Pettigrew is no exception. As the legal advisor to the Ministry of Pin Control, Pettigrew is sent to Marsett Bay, “somewhere on the Polar Circuit”, where he takes up residence at Fernlea Residential Club. His “brother or sister pin controllers” in residence are a varied lot, including the “unassuming little man” Wood, who just happens to be a detective story writer. Unfortunately, his work is unknown to all but Mr. Pettigrew, “To have an author in their midst was something; but an author whose authorship one had to take on trust was hardly the real thing.” So, they resolve that Mr. Wood must write a murder mystery, with the residents of Fernlea as characters. The victim is to be the Pin Controller himself, and their killer…the “distinctly batty” Miss Danville, who is left unaware of the role bestowed on her. Naturally one of the characters ends up murdered. Just not the one they picked.

This is the first of several books that I’ve previously read, and will be re-reading in the coming months (it being the end of the year and my hoping that my family will fulfill my needs, wants and desires…aka my Christmas wish list). I went into this remembering that the first time around I thought it to be an okay mystery, a little too drawn out for my taste. I even made the a comment on Puzzle Doctor’s post that “It just didn’t make me want to keep reading.” Looking back, I have to say I now see it very differently. While the actual murder doesn’t take place until well into the story, there are several subplots, and numerous eccentric characters, which combined to provide grist for an entertaining and well done mystery. Mr. Pettigrew’s old friend Inspector Mallett even arrives to investigate “leakages of information, breaches in the control” regarding the trading of pins. At Fernlea, “middle-aged ex-solicitor’s clerk” Mr. Phillips has taken an interest in Pettigrew’s ‘young lady secretary” Miss Brown, and suggested that she take out an insurance policy on herself. With the addition of characters such as “female gorgon” Miss Clarke; her friend “The Merry Widow” Mrs. Hopkinson; “a positively poisonous young gentleman named Rickaby”, and “a horn-rimmed creature called Edelman” how could you not expect nefarious deeds?

Also, having read more of Hare’s work, I have more of an appreciation for his writing style, and especially his dry wit. With barbed references to the work of the Pin Control, he seems to have taken great pleasure in satirizing WW2 British bureaucracy.

The gentleman whom I saw about the job – he was no less a person than the Controllers own deputy assistant – gave me to understand in no uncertain terms that on the proper administration of the Pin Control hinged the entire – I forget how he put it, but I assure you it made a deep impression on me, more than pin-deep I was going to say, but perhaps that would be an exaggeration.”

It’s been so long since I last read Bodkin, that I really could not remember who the murderer was. As usual, the solution hinge’s on a point of law as well as a piece of information that you may have to dredge up in your memory. In the past Hare has used some fairly esoteric law references, but not so this time, which made it fairly easy to put things together. 

As usual with Hare I found this to be entertaining and fun, and I’m glad I gave it another look. 

My Judgement – 4.25/5

Prior Rulings – crossexaminingcrime, The Puzzle Doctor

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