Tenant for Death by Cyril Hare

Inspector Mallett joins the ranks of fictional detectives who like a good lunch

Tenant for Death is published by Faber and Faber
Tenant for Death is published
by Faber and Faber
When two young estate agent’s clerks are sent to check an inventory on a house in South Kensington they find the dead body of a man on the premises, an item that was definitely not on their list.

Tenant for Death, published in 1937, is the first crime novel written by the detective novelist Cyril Hare, and it introduces his series sleuth, the formidable Inspector Mallett of Scotland Yard.

Set in the world of high finance as it was in the 1930s, Tenant for Death is ‘an ingenious story’ to use the words of the Times Literary Supplement review. It provides Mallett with a difficult and puzzling mystery to solve and establishes the Inspector as a thinking detective with a love of good food.

The murder victim turns out to be a businessman who had a lot of enemies. The police spend a great deal of time trying to establish the identity of the mysterious man who has rented the house where the body has been found and we do not find out who he really was and what has become of him until the last pages of the book.

Some of the suspects are extremely plausible characters in their own right and the reader can feel varying degrees of sympathy for them.

The author shows his detailed knowledge of the legal district of London as we follow Mallett along its streets and through its alleyways. I thought Tenant for Death was very well written and an interesting story, considering it was Hare’s first published detective novel.

Cyril Hare was, in fact, the pen name for Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark, who was born in 1900 in Mickleham in Surrey and became a barrister and a judge.

Cyril Hare was a psuedonym for the barrister Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark
Cyril Hare was a psuedonym for the
barrister Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark

The writer’s pseudonym was derived from a mixture of Hare Court, where he was in chambers as a barrister in London, and Cyril Mansions, where he lived.

Hare also wrote many short stories for the London Evening Standard and some radio and stage plays and he was a keen member of the Detection Club along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and many other famous crime writers.

After the war, Hare - as Clark - was appointed a county court judge in Surrey. He died in 1958, when he was at the peak of his career as a judge and at the height of his powers as a master of the whodunnit.

In 1990, when the British Crime Writers’ Association published their list of The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time, they awarded the 85th place to Hare’s 1942 novel, Tragedy at Law, which is considered by many to be his best work.

Although I enjoyed Tragedy at Law when I reviewed it for this website, I actually preferred Tenant for Death, finding it a more compelling story with well-drawn characters and a very clever ending.

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