Top mysteries challenge review: The Shortest Way to Hades by Sarah Caudwell

Year of publication: 1985
Genre: Mystery
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateur (a law historian)
Setting & time: London, England and Corfu, Greece; contemporary

Professor Hilary Tamar tells the story of how she (or is it he? – it is not clear from the text) became involved in solving a murder connected to a legal case being handled by her/his barrister friends and ex-students. The heirs to a considerable fortune wanted to change an entail arrangement so that the main heiress wouldn’t have to pay inheritance tax. The case was successful but when one of the heirs in the tail (i.e. she will only inherit if the main heiress dies) falls off a balcony and dies, the barrister representing her thinks it may be murder, but neither Hilary nor the police can see how it could have been done. Then two of Hilary’s young friends go to Corfu for a holiday and are invited to stay with the family, which includes the heiress and three others who are after her in the tail (line of inheritance). When one of Tamar's friends writes of mysterious "accidents" and her growing uneasiness about the situation, Hilary puts two and two together and sets off to Corfu to prevent further foul play.

Review and rating:
This is a very enjoyable story. Not only is it well written, full of funny and interesting characters and sparkling with humour, it is also a very complicated and twisted mystery. The solution involves the terms of a will and there are some points of law that one needs to understand in order to be able to compete with the sleuth in solving the case. But by making the narrator a legal historian and not a lawyer, Caudwell cleverly enables herself to have the lawyers explain the legal points to the reader through Tamar, in plain English, without it becoming contrived or overcomplicated. The narrative is full of funny dialogue which reminds me of Georgette Heyer’s mysteries. It also has a solid and complicated plot that should give any mystery lover several hours of reading pleasure.

All in all, I liked it very much and will be on the lookout for the rest of Caudwell’s books. 5 stars.

Books left in challenge: 104.

Awards and nominations: Finalist, 1987 Anthony Award.


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