Francis Pettigrew, Hare’s chief protagonist, is living in semi-retirement in the village of Yewbury in a house inherited by his wife Eleanor (whom he met in With A Bare Bodkin ); having recently moved there, they are plunged into the cycle of village life much of which is organised by a Mrs Pink. Pettigrew encounters Mrs Pink in a different capacity when he is sitting, due to the absence of the permanent incumbent through illness, as a judge; her landlord, Todman, is seeking to evict her and the case comes up before Pettigrew. A little while later Mrs Pink is murdered. Detective-Superintendent Trimble leads the investigation and proceeds to get no-where fast,; fortunately he has the assistance of Pettigrew and the Chief Constable, McWilliam (both Trimble and McWilliam had previously appeared in When the Wind Blows ), who arrive upon the solution. 

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That Yew Tree’s Shade is Hare’s attempt at a village mystery and an exceedingly good one it is too. Every individual character is strongly drawn – the ‘good’ Mrs Pink, the surly Todman, the pauperised ex-Harrow smallholder Wendon, the shady financier just released from prison Rose, the racy divorcee Marion Ransome and her somewhat proper 17 year old son Godfrey. But the whole panoply of village life is presented under Hare’s benevolent and humorous eye. We learn much of interest about the 1950’s as well – the acute housing crisis for instance (reminding us – as it is so important that we should be reminded – that there is little new under the sun) and food rationing (which plays its’ part in the plot). 

Elizabeth Bowenwriting in The Tatler (this is a quote which is given as Elizabeth Bowen in an early Penguin Hare I have, but as The Tatlerin my House of Stratus 2001 edition of That Yew Tree’s Shade – maybe they thought we wouldn’t know who Elizabeth Bowen was!) produces a wonderful phrase to describe Hare ….’a muffled compassion for human nature’. This really fits all his best work with breathtaking precision. Even Trimble, who has two attributes which one suspects were high in the Hare canon of undesirables – he is ‘humourless and ambitious’ – is mainly treated with gentle mockery (the scenes in which he encounters the village bobby are masterpieces). The books weakness might be its resolution, though it is to be noted that Hare avoids the easy option.

 That Yew Tree’s Shade is both vintage Hare and one of the great village mysteries.