I promised I’d review E.C.R. Lorac’s Post After Post-Mortem next, a book by one of my favourite British writers from the “Golden Age” of crime fiction (think Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, etc). This particular book was published in 1936 (and republished recently by the British Library in 2022, so it’s fairly easy to get hold of!), and features Lorac’s series detective, Chief Inspector Macdonald. The title refers to the fact that the whole mystery turns on a letter sent by a woman who rather suddenly died, revealing that her death was highly unlikely to be a suicide (which is what it is originally assumed to be).
Before digging in further, I ought to mention first that I found this one a little bit heavy-going due to the subject matter. Because the death is initially thought to be a suicide, the victim’s family suffer quite a bit as a result—and then again when they learn that she was actually murdered, and through being unable to quite trust one another. Unlike some writers of that period, Lorac had quite a gift for writing about places and people that you instinctively care for, so the distress of the characters and the strained feeling in their home all ring quite true for the reader as well. This definitely didn’t feel “cosy” to me in the way that people sometimes call Golden Age crime cosy. It’s not gory or anything, nor gratuitous in any way, but I couldn’t take it lightly.
Anyway, to turn back to the story itself, it fits our theme of books about the mail because the crime is only discovered because the victim happened to send a cheerful letter to her brother right before she supposedly killed herself. I won’t “spoil” the details too much, but it feels like the author thought about the way the postal service works to work out the mystery. In sending a letter or a postcard, you never quite know when it will arrive, and how things will look when it lands on the recipient’s doormat. It’s a little bit creepy to think about receiving a letter from someone after they’ve died, to be honest; it’s a clever story device, but it also provides that human touch for the characters, in showing her brother’s strained reaction.
So I think it’s possible some people might find this one a bit too upsetting, especially as the discovery that it was a murder is at least a third of the way into the book, if not more. I think it was worth it, but in the end, it was a book I appreciated a lot but didn’t love: it is well-written, with characters I cared about and an outcome that mattered to me as the reader, but perhaps less escapist than a lot of the Golden Age crime fiction. If you’d like to give E.C.R. Lorac’s work a try but feel you’d rather skip this one, Death of an Author (also recently reissued by the British Library) had me riveted! The postal service features somewhat less prominently in that book, though. (Boo!)
I’m not sure now what the next book to review should be; if you have any suggestions, then let me know via the forum (you may need to spend some time looking around the forum before that section unlocks). Until next time, happy reading!