RogerBW's Blog

With a Bare Bodkin, Cyril Hare 28 March 2021

1946 mystery, second in the series centred on Francis Pettigrew, a not-terribly-successful barrister. As the war begins in earnest, Pettigrew is made legal advisor to the Pin Control, the vitally important new government department controlling the production of, and preventing anyone from profiteering on, pins. But murder is never far away.

Though actually murder seems quite far away for much of the tale, as office politics spill over into the nasty boarding-house where most of the principals find themselves. When it turns out that one of them is a crime writer, some of them enlist his services in coming up with a murder-mystery plot set at the office… though it turns out to have quite the wrong victim.

Lots of office politics first, though; the author was briefly at the Ministry of Economic Warfare, and one assumes that the portrayal of a new department staffed largely with temporary civil servants (women and older men, and nobody needs to say why) is drawn from the life. They're all a bit bored and resentful, not helped by the obvious unimportance of the work they're doing; though everyone except Pettigrew himself notices the reason for his ongoing annoyance that his secretary appears to be planning to get married…

The defence had briefed Babbington, the most fashionable and expensive silk on the circuit, and although what he had to say in mitigation could have been put into a couple of sentences he contrived to spin out his address to twenty minutes. Babbington always prided himself on giving his clients their money's worth, and in this case his long-windedness reduced his rate of pay to the very reasonable figure of fifteen guineas a minute. The costs of the defence and the substantial fine which was imposed upon the defendants taken together had the effect of reducing their liability to Excess Profits Tax by quite an appreciable amount.

Most of the significant incidents turn out to be so in retrospect; the plot isn't quite as clever as in Tragedy at Law but it gets the job done and it's a good fit to the character of the perpetrator. In the tension between character and mystery, this definitely leans towards the character end, but while many of them are unsympathetic they manage to remain interesting. (Which is much the same sort of thing I said about Paul Temple and the Alex Affair, but these characters have personalities rather than just traits.)

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See also:
Paul Temple and the Alex Affair

Previous in series: Tragedy At Law | Series: Francis Pettigrew

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