The Shortest Way to Hades

A Novel

About the Book

Inheritance becomes deadly in this gripping literary puzzle—the second installment of the Hilary Tamar mysteries that began with Thus Was Adonis Murdered.
“Sarah Caudwell is one of my very favorite mystery writers.”—A. J. Finn, New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window

Die first, pay later.

It seemed the perfect way to avoid three million in taxes on a five-million-pound estate: change the trust arrangement. Everyone in the family agreed to support the heiress, the ravishing raven-haired Camilla Galloway, in her court petition—except dreary Cousin Deirdre, who suddenly demanded a small fortune for her signature. 
Then Deirdre had a terrible accident. That was when the young London barristers handling the trust—Cantrip, Selena, Timothy, Ragwort, and Julia—summoned their Oxford friend Professor Hilary Tamar to Lincoln’s Inn. Julia thinks it’s murder. Hilary demurs. Why didn’t the heiress die? But when the accidents escalate and they learn of the naked lunch at Uncle Rupert’s, Hilary the Scholar embarks on the most perilous quest of all: the truth.

Don’t miss any of Sarah Caudwell’s riveting Hilary Tamar mysteries:
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Praise for The Shortest Way to Hades

Praise for Thus Was Adonis Murdered

“A tour de force . . . a hilarious comedy of manners.”St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“An absolutely delightful mystery—erudite, witty, believable.”The Arizona Daily Star

“Witty . . . clever . . . an elaborately plotted, very English and charming story.”Publishers Weekly

“Caudwell’s light touch and the puzzle she presents make for a diverting tale.”The Washington Post Book World

“A finely honed, icily witty gem of detective fiction.”Mystery News
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The Shortest Way to Hades

Chapter 1

professor tamar—­mr. shepherd rang and said please come to london as soon as possible. you can stay at his flat and he will give you dinner. he says it has something to do with a murder.

Awaiting me in my pigeon-­hole at the porter’s lodge of St. George’s College, the message perplexed me more than a little. If my former pupil Timothy Shepherd, now in practice as a barrister in Lincoln’s Inn, wished to offer me hospitality, I was more than willing to oblige him: by the sixth week of the Trinity term my academic responsibilities were weighing heavy on my shoulders, and the prospect of a day or two away from Oxford was delightful. I could not account, however, for the pressing nature of the invitation; and as for this question of murder—­

My step quickened by curiosity, I crossed the quadrangle and mounted the staircase to my rooms. Dialing the telephone number of Timothy’s Chambers, I was answered in the tone of glum hostility which is characteristic of the temporary typist. She admitted with some reluctance that Timothy was available.

“Hilary,” said my former pupil, “how good of you to ring back. How soon can you come to London?”

“Timothy,” I said, “what is all this about murder?”

“Ah yes,” said Timothy, sounding pleased with himself. “I thought that might interest you. Do you happen to recall, by any chance, the Remington-­Fiske application?”

“Was that the one with the Greek boy, who had such a deplorable effect on Julia?”

“That’s right. Do you remember it?”

I did, I did indeed.

It had been about three months earlier, a Thursday in late February. I had been persuaded by an obligation of friendship to attend a seminar in the London School of Economics. By a quarter past five I could endure no more: I slipped out into Lincoln’s Inn Fields and sought refuge in 62 New Square.

Not pausing to announce myself in the Clerks’ Room—­Henry, the Senior Clerk, does not altogether approve of me—­I ascended the bare stone staircase to the second floor, occupied by the more junior members of Chambers and commonly known as the Nursery. Timothy’s room was empty. Knocking, however, on the door opposite, I was invited to come in.

Desmond Ragwort and Michael Cantrip, the usual occupants of the room, were seated facing each other at their respective desks, in attitudes which suggested a rather decorative allegory of Virtue reproving Wantonness. From the pinkness which qualified the chaste pallor of Ragwort’s marble cheek and the unsanctified sparkle in the witch-­black eyes of Cantrip I gathered that Cantrip had done something of which Ragwort disapproved—­it was not so rare a circumstance as to arouse my curiosity.

Timothy, some three or four years senior to the other two, stood by the fireplace, supporting his long and angular frame by resting his elbow on the mantelpiece: he seemed to disdain the comfort of the large leather armchair facing the window, which from my position in the doorway appeared unoccupied. I was gratified by the warmth of his greeting.

“My dear Hilary, what a pleasant surprise. What brings you to Lincoln’s Inn?”

“I am a refugee from a gathering of sociologists,” I said. “I thought that your company would raise my spirits.”

“You mean,” said a voice from the depths of the armchair, “that you thought we would take you for drinks in the Corkscrew.”

The voice had once been described to me by an impressionable county court judge, a guest on High Table in St. George’s, as resembling Hymettus honey slightly seasoned with lemon juice. Hearing it, I did not need the glimpse of blond hair and retroussé nose afforded by a second glance at the armchair to know that it was occupied after all by the fourth member of the Nursery, Selena Jardine.

“Some such notion,” I said, “had crossed my mind. What a fortunate coincidence that none of you is busy.”

“Not busy?” said Ragwort. “My dear Hilary, you surely do not imagine that we have abandoned our labors at this early hour of the afternoon to engage in idle gossip? We are in conference.”

“That’s right,” said Cantrip. “We’ve all got to zoom along to old Loppylugs tomorrow to get him to do a trust bust.” Cantrip was educated—­I use the expression in its broadest possible sense—­at the University of Cambridge, and I do not always find it easy to understand him. From my acquaintance with him, however, I was now sufficiently familiar with the Cambridge idiom to gather that the members of the Nursery were all instructed in connection with an application under the Variation of Trusts Act to be made on the following day before Mr. Justice Lorimer.

“With a view to saving our clients a large sum in capital transfer tax,” said Selena, “we are varying the trusts in reversion on the interest of a lady in her late eighties, and not, alas, in the best of health. The saving depends on this being done in her lifetime, and we’re rather anxious that there shouldn’t be any defect in our evidence which might oblige us to ask for an adjournment. So we’re going through it now to make sure it’s in order.”

They decided, after some debate, that the evidence was not of a confidential nature, and that I might remain to hear it; they promised that after this we would adjourn to the Corkscrew. When I had settled myself in the least uncomfortable of the chairs provided for lay clients and solicitors, Selena began to read her client’s affidavit.

Hilary Tamar Series

The Sibyl in Her Grave
The Sirens Sang of Murder
The Shortest Way to Hades
Thus Was Adonis Murdered
The Shortest Way to Hades

About the Author

Sarah Caudwell
Sarah Caudwell, the pipe-smoking author of Thus Was Adonis Murdered and three other novels featuring Oxford Don Hilary Tamar, died in 2000. “Hilary’s voice was in my head before any of the plots,” Caudwell told writer Martin Edwards in an interview for Mystery Scene. “I knew from the outset Hilary must be an Oxford don—but of equivocal sex and even equivocal age, resembling that precise, donnish kind of individual who starts being elderly at the age of twenty-two.” More by Sarah Caudwell
Decorative Carat