By Cyril Hare
First published: UK, Faber & Faber, 1951; US, Little, Brown, 1951. Also published as The Christmas Murder, Spivak, 1953.
The English murder of the classic variety is the murder of an elderly aristocrat in a snow-bound country house. But for the murder to be even more English, the detective must be a foreigner: here, the Hungarian Jew historian, Dr. Bottwink — who knows more of England than the English do themselves.
The murder — and the reasons behind it — are particularly English, relying on an ingenious use of income tax, politics, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and an obscure piece of British history.
Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Richardson, 15th June 1951):
Mr. Hare, whose very readable legal detective stories—with their expertly informed portraits of forensic lions, bears and mangy old curs of the courts, each under the eye of the judge and his insouciant marshal—are all too few, has experimented here in the kind of Senior Common Room mood which is extensively engendered by Mr. Michael Innes. The result is not altogether successful. There is some wit and some nice crisp writing in An English Murder, but it is never quite possible to believe in the moribund Lord Warbeck or in his cousin Sir Julius, the Socialist Chancellor of the Exchequer, against whom there is such a tortuous plot, while the central European historian, Dr. Bottwink, through whose eyes we follow much of the action, is frankly a bore. There remains the butler Briggs, who steals what is left of the picture. The verdict has to be: a commendable try. The fact is that so many corpses in the vast morgue of crime fiction are to be found stuffed with sawdust even before they are laid out that it is necessary to be extremely careful in the choice of both victim and murderer. If these never come alive, nothing will. This may seem unduly severe, but Mr. Hare writes so well that he insists on being judged by the highest standards. Here he has set himself an impossible task from the start: to write a consistently light, funny, satirical detective story which is also, presumably, intended to be both gripping and arresting.