Death Is No Sportsman by Cyril Hare

A fishing story with no red herrings to confuse the trail

Death Is No Sportsman was first published in 1938
Death Is No Sportsman was
first published in 1938
The sport of fly fishing is at the centre of the mystery in Death Is No Sportsman, Cyril Hare’s second detective novel.

A group of men, who are all devoted to the pastime, gather at a small hotel, looking forward to spending a pleasant weekend on the river bank. Although the men are not friends, they try to get on amicably so they can continue to share the fishing rights they hold jointly to a small, but desirable stretch of the river Didder.

Behind their superficial courtesy towards each other, there are clearly tensions. Also, as regular guests at the hotel, they know the local people and are aware of the passions and rivalries going on below the surface in the small community.

All this is beautifully set up by Cyril Hare in the first few pages and it will come as no surprise to the reader when a body is discovered at the side of the river the following day.

The victim is the local squire, a man who was unpopular with both the fishermen and the villagers. It is quickly established that he has been shot in the head.

The corpse is discovered by a young man connected with the fishing syndicate, soon after his arrival at the inn. He is subsequently revealed to have deep feelings for the wife of the dead man, so the stage is expertly set by the author for a mystery involving interesting characters in an evocative setting.

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

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 was a practising barrister and judge as well as a writer
Hare was a practising barrister and
judge as well as a writer
Hare 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 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 whodunit.

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.

In Death Is No Sportsman, the police quickly find the murder of the local squire too complex for them to solve and call in Scotland Yard. In the following chapter, we see Inspector Mallet, ‘a very tall, very broad man, with a mild red face set off with an unexpectedly ferocious-looking waxed moustache,’ descending from the train ready to take over. He investigates with the thoroughness the reader expects of him, but the local police find his attention to detail mildly irritating.

I found Death Is No Sportsman to be an intriguing mystery that always plays fair with the reader. It was so well written that I enjoyed being guided along by Hare in the direction of the inevitable and satisfying scene at the end. The suspects have all gathered in a room at the inn next to the river where Mallet explains everything and the identity of the murderer is revealed.

Death Is No Sportsman was first published in 1938. 

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