A really enjoyable murder mystery that strikes just the right balance between cosy and exciting!
Book: Post After Post-Mortem by ECR Lorac
Publication date: 10th February 2022
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by British Library Publishing. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: discussion of suicide and murder by various methods (I don’t want to spoil which, but you can message me if you would like more details).
Mr and Mrs Surray and their five children form a prolific writing machine, with scores of novels, scientific treatises, reviews and crime thrillers published under their family name. Following a rare convergence of the whole household at their Oxfordshire home, Ruth – middle sister who writes ‘books which are just books’ – decides to spend some weeks with her parents recovering from the pressures of the writing life while the rest of the brood scatter to the winds again. Their next return is heralded by the tragic news that Ruth has apparently taken her life after an evening at the Surrays’ hosting a selection of publishers and writers, one of whom has been named as Ruth’s literary executor in the will she left behind.
Despite some suspicions from the family, the verdict at the inquest is suicide – but when Ruth’s brother Richard receives a letter from the deceased which was delayed in the post, he enlists the help of CID Robert Macdonald to investigate what could only be an ingeniously planned murder.
This was such a delightful read, which sounds rather sinister to say about a murder mystery – but this exemplifies everything I love about the classic mystery genre in general and the British Library Crime Classics in specific. Set mostly in the sleepy Oxfordshire countryside, but wandering as far as London and Edinburgh, it feels like exactly that classic kind of detective story you always find on TV on Sunday afternoons – perfect for reading with a cup of tea and a piece of cake as the red herrings fly.
I very much enjoyed the relatively slow build-up of this story – although there’s plenty of dramatic happening, the set up of the case is almost understated, and I thought it was a really interesting take on the traditional murder mystery, sort of halfway between an active case and a cold one. There’s a lot of discussion of suicide and mental illness, which requires understanding some of the context of how these issues were viewed by society at the time of writing; the fact that the family try to keep Ruth’s (assumed) suicide hush-hush adds a several interesting layers to the mystery, as it gives a sort of socially legitimate reason to withhold information from the police, which is where the issues start to arise… It was so clever, and such a great way to cause the reader to be watching out for truth and untruth from the start. I’m not someone who tends to try to guess the solution to a mystery, but this one had me suspecting so many different people, because everyone had a complicated relationship with the truth!
I really enjoyed the elements of the story that dealt with the literary world – it’s not the only focus of the book, but several of the characters are writers and I loved the peek into their world. Writers writing writers often have some very wry observations to make! My one complaint was that, having set up the family as such wonderfully interesting, intellectual characters with a fun dynamic in the first part of the book, the second part really didn’t feature much of them at all. Instead, it switches to a focus on Inspector Macdonald, who is an extremely enjoyable detective in his own right (and I’m looking forward to reading more of Lorac’s books with him as the lead), but I did feel the lack of that very fun family group in all their academic eccentricity. They pop up from time to time as they become relevant, but I feel like they would have been a very fun cast to do a house party mystery with, as I was interested in them all immensely. The opening scenes are a masterclass in how to introduce seven characters all at once and make them all engaging! Still, ‘I liked some characters too much’ is not much of a criticism, really…
Obviously there’s not too much I can say about the story itself, but I think it’s fair to say that if you love a classic mystery, especially one that feels like an episode of Lewis, you’ll definitely want to add this one to your collection! Five out of five cats!
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