Narrator: Chris MacDonnell
Published by Tantor Audio on March 12, 2019 (first published 1951)
Genres: Vintage Mystery
Length: 6 hrs 10 mins
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A country-house murder-mystery classic, as a party of people find themselves snowed in on Christmas Eve with a murderer among them....
The snow is thick, the phone line is down, and no one is getting in or out of Warbeck Hall. All is set for a lovely Christmas, with friends and family gathered round the fire, except as the bells chime midnight, a murder is committed.
But who is responsible? The scorned young lover? The lord's passed-over cousin? The social-climbing politician's wife? The Czech history professor? The obsequious butler?
And perhaps the real question is: Can they survive long enough to find out?
An English Murder is a typical, country house, murder mystery common in Golden Age mysteries, with a slightly different feel. Although the set-up is one of my favorites – a group of guests snowed in at a country house over the holidays – the modern world is beginning to impinge. Domestic staff is harder to get hold of and Briggs, the butler, valiantly does his best to keep up standards with far less help than he previously had. Meanwhile, the house is suffering from a lack of staff and money. It looks impressive, but maintenance is expensive and the present Lord Warbeck’s son, Robert, is unlikely to be able to afford his inheritance.
Lord Warbeck is old, and ill, and wants to have his family with him at Christmas. His guests include his son, Robert, who is the President of the League of Liberty and Justice, a an antisemitic and anti-socialist organization; Sir Julius Warbeck, Chancellor of the Exchequer; Mrs. Carstairs, whose father was the rector of the parish when she was young; Lady Camilla Prendergast, a distant relative; and Dr. Wenceslaus Bottwink, a Professor of History and a Nazi concentration camp survivor, currently doing research at Warbeck House.
The guests are an ill assorted group and tensions, political and personal, are in the air. The house is snowed in when there is a suspicious death and Rogers, a Special Branch Detective whose job is to keep Sir Julius safe, is asked to step in to investigate. However, it is Dr. Bottwink who, with the aid of his historical knowledge, solves the mystery. An interesting, post-war, setting for a classic murder mystery.
I am a devout lover of vintage mysteries, but they do tend to ignore the Holocaust. Hare breaks from the ordinary, World War II has clearly affected people’s attitudes and the structure of their society. Anti-Semitism and the anti-foreigner attitudes are frowned upon here. The way characters react to Bottwink allows Hare to show us various factions in Britain at the time, and the most sympathetic characters are also the ones that find Bottwink comfortable to talk to. There are a lot of observations made about the class interactions of the time too.
But this is An English Murder, and it’s the motive that makes it so very English. The clues are laid out well and the pace of the story is well-done. I enjoyed it.