Tragedy at Law, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Tragedy at Law follows a rather self-important High Court judge, Mr Justice Barber, as he moves from town to town presiding over cases in the Southern England circuit.

When an anonymous letter arrives for Barber, warning of imminent revenge, he dismisses it as the work of a harmless lunatic.

But then a second letter appears, followed by a poisoned box of the judge's favourite chocolates, and he begins to fear for his life.

Enter barrister and amateur detective Francis Pettigrew, a man who was once in love with Barber's wife and has never quite succeeded in his profession - can he find out who is threatening Barber before it is too late?


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Crime & mystery
  • ISBN: 9780571244874

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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

One of the finest traditional whodunnits that I have read!Set on the Southern Assize Court Circuit in October 1939 as the country gradually subsided into war but before the subsequent privations became apparent, this novel tells of the tribulations of Frank Pettigrew, and down-at-heel barrister (perhaps an early forerunner of John Mortimer's Rumpole) and Justice Barber. Steeped in pomposity the Judge stumbles through the proceedings, dependent upon the ministrations of his youthful and far more intelligent wife to preserve him from embarrassment. To add a little savour the reader subsequently discovers that before she married the Judge Lady Barber had previously been engaged to Pettigrew.However, Lady Barber is not on hand to prevent her husband from deciding to drive home after a lawyers' mess dinner in the blackout and knocking over a stranger who suffers damage to his hand and may have to lose a finger. Distressing enough for anyone, this injury is particularly awkward for the victim as he is a feted classical pianist.Meanwhile the Judge has been receiving threatening but anonymous letters.The pianist consults his own lawyers who threaten to sue the Judge if a satisfactory settlement cannot be reached out of court. This would, of course, signal the end of his career on the Bench. With all these elements Cyril Hare concocts a fairly heady brew, which eventually culminates with the murder of the Judge outside the Central Criminal Court.Hare manages his plot masterfully, with a deft lightness of touch. One feels great empathy for Pettigrew, and shudders at the occasional loathsomeness of Barber.This was one of the most enjoyable books I have read all year.

Review by

This is an old-fashioned murder story set in the early years of the 2nd World War in a fictional and romanticised England. Hare writes elegantly and the book is heavily nostalgic. The plot is relatively slow and the murder takes forever to happen, but you feel in safe hands as Hare leads us to the inevitable corpse. For all that, I found the ending disappointingly predictable: I'd guessed the perpetrator long before the end. For all that, I've bought another Hare: being taken effortlessly into a world long since gone outweighs the mild disappointment of that last 'This is who did it and why'.

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