Postcrossing Blog

Stories about the Postcrossing community and the postal world

Viewing posts tagged "books" View all

The cover of E.C.R. Lorac's Post After Post-Mortem, illustrated with a classic travel poster

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!



I’ve been excited to write this book review for a while! Lydia Pyne’s book on postcards is lovely: full-colour reproductions of a number of different interesting postcards illustrate the text, and her enthusiasm for postcards shines through on every page. She suggests that postcards were the world’s earliest social network, a way that people communicated casually across sometimes great distances, and shared something of themselves in the process. She points out that many traditional postcard designs and messages look exactly like scrolling through someone’s Instagram account, for example, which makes total sense to me.

Lydia Pine's Postcards book cover, with the title in the center and vintage postcards along the book borders.

There were a lot of fascinating anecdotes in this book. I found myself slipping in a little sticky page marker for something I wanted to come back to again and again. Admittedly, sometimes I wanted to argue with it a bit, and I was a bit confused by the fact that it didn’t even mention Postcrossing (which would, if anything, support the social network idea)—particularly when she said that nobody really sends postcards anymore.

But mostly I just found it fascinating. I think the most interesting part was the section on political postcards, and the suggestion that postcards were used explicitly to support the revolution in Russia (from early anti-imperialist postcards in the 1870s to Soviet propaganda in the 1930s). Because they were difficult to control, despite the best efforts of the state, they reached all kinds of people. The suffrage movement also involved postcards, and it’s fascinating to wonder about how they might have changed people’s minds, chipping away at their preconceptions a little bit at a time. One postcard on its own may not seem much, but it does form a connection—and it makes me think about the way that Postcrossing in particular can form connections between random people who would never meet otherwise.

I’d say that this book does exactly what I ask of a good non-fiction book: it gives me more questions than answers, about other things I’d like to learn or delve deeper into. Each chapter outlines a facet of the topic, but there’s always more to learn. I need to look out for more books to fill the gaps!

As always, I welcome new suggestions about books relating to the mail, postal systems, letters, etc—let me know any titles that come to mind via the forum (you’ll need to be logged in to view this post, and may need to browse around and participate a little before you can reply in this section of the forum). My next review will probably be about E.C.R. Lorac’s mystery, Post After Post-Mortem… but something else might grab me first: you never know.



I’ve been promising for a while that I’d write a review of Emmi Itäranta's The Moonday Letters. This one’s a bit different from the other books I’ve reviewed here so far, since it’s a sci-fi novel written in the form of letters, set in a future where humans have left Earth and colonised Mars. The main character, Lumi, is from Earth, and writing letters to her partner, Sol, while they’re parted.

Cover of To the Letter

The book is a bit of an “eco-thriller”, but from the sidelines—we see it from Lumi’s point of view, and she’s not really in the thick of it anyway, she’s just deducing what’s going on from the outside. I think it’ll also read as a fantasy novel for most readers, given the shamanic-type elements of how Lumi does her healing and also interacts with the world. It’s an interesting mix, and one that I didn’t quite like myself (though I know plenty of people who would find it very exciting!).

I’ve talked before about how I love the way letters reveal personality, but there’s a downside to letters which I think kind of gets at what my problem was with the book. Letters are usually written after things happen. You can get a little mileage over a letter interrupted by events and resumed later, but it’s pretty rare for someone to be able to actively write a letter while things are happening.

It’s also a difficult way to get a good grasp of characters and situations. Personally, when I’m writing a letter, I don’t include a lot of physical detail about what I’m doing and how I do it. If I write to my grandmother that I’m done with my exams, then I wouldn’t describe the process of actually taking the exams too much—but in a novel, that description is exactly what you want to see! Itäranta has been careful to include quite a lot of description, to help characters and situations come alive, and I think it made the book less credible as a collection of letters (much as I like a good epistolary novel). She wouldn’t need to describe certain things to her partner: they’ve both seen them, and even if they hadn’t, there’s no need to write to this level of detail.

So that for me kind of spoiled the immediacy of the novel and the “authenticity” of the letters—I didn’t really “believe” (in the context of the story) that these were letters, which is sad, because letters as a form can do so much.

This all makes it sound like I really didn’t like the book, though, and that’s not quite true. Despite feeling the description didn’t seem “realistic” for letters, there’s some beautiful imagery, and I found the idea of the story fascinating. The author chooses to end the story on a pretty ambiguous note, which I also thought was brave and interesting; it might make it a little less satisfying, for some, but I thought it was a nice touch.

Overall, as you can see, not a total winner for me, but I don’t regret spending the time on it!

Next time, I’ll be reviewing a book I’ve wanted to talk about for a while, Lydia Pyne’s Postcards: The Rise and Fall of a Social Network. I put so many little sticky notes in this one! I’ve also promised to review Lynne Kolze’s Please Write, which just came out… and I have a post-related classic mystery called Post After Post-Mortem, by one of my favourite Golden Age crime writers, E.C.R. Lorac, which I’ve been saving for a rainy day and a Postcrossing review. So there’s plenty to come!



When I posted my last review, I promised the next would be about Emmi Itäranta’s The Moonday Letters. I still plan to review that novel, but in honor of Letter Writing Month last month, I thought I’d pause for a moment and review the book I just finished: Simon Garfield’s To The Letter: A Curious History of Correspondence.

Cover of To the Letter

Garfield’s history opens with a story about the writer, and about his interest in a particular set of historical letters being auctioned off, but from there it goes all over the place. It discusses the Roman letters found at Vindolanda, the developing tradition of letters in Rome, and surveys history through discussing famous correspondents from Madame de Sévigné to Ted Hughes, and discussing how society reacted to letter-writing (such as the letter-writing manuals so common at one time).

Cover of My Dear Bessie

Interspersed between each chapter, though, is my favourite part: a series of letters between a soldier named Chris and a woman back home named Bessie, written during the Second World War. Through their letters you come to know them, and even with such a small fraction of their letters included, you come to feel for them as they fall in love, and hope they managed to overcome the odds. The letters are a beautiful example of the power of letters to reveal character and allow someone to bare their heart, and I’m excited to discover now that there is a full volume of them available, My Dear Bessie.

Garfield makes this power clear as well, picking out passages from the other letters he discusses to highlight his points. One part that stuck out to me was the discussion of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, through Hughes’ own letters. (As a warning, though, that chapter can be quite upsetting, given the circumstances of Plath’s death, and given Hughes’ emotions about it as expressed in his letters.)

The whole thing made me wonder what my letters say about me, to be honest! I’ve always written letters here and there, and at the moment I write to my grandmother every week. It made me want to work a little more at it, and see if I can make my letters as lively as some of the examples here.

To the Letter was definitely an enjoyable read for me; I was more interested in some of the famous letter-writers discussed than others, admittedly, but Garfield’s enthusiasm for letter-writing—and for peeking in at the lives of people as revealed by their letters—is infectious. It’s a bit of a chunky book, but it flew by—especially with Chris and Bessie’s letters with each chapter, and wanting to know how things ended for them!

Next time, I promise, I’ll take a look at The Moonday Letters—before I forget the whole book, since it’s been a while since I read it! And in the meantime, don’t forget you can tell me about books about letters (fiction or non-fiction) in this topic on the forum (you may need to browse the forums a little before you can post in it, though!).



Ever since I started writing book reviews about books that involved mail in some way, people have made the same recommend­ation again and again. I promised last time, so I can’t get out of it now… yes, I’ve finally read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society!

Cover of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The title makes it sound a bit quirky, but it’s worth knowing going in that it actually looks at the aftermath of the Nazi occupation of Guernsey. Many of the characters describe traumatic experiences, including the experiences of prisoners of war.

It also includes a lot of references to and discussion of a past romance between an islander and a Nazi (who was kind and sympathetic to her, and to others on Guernsey, who remember him fondly). I know that among the romance community there are a lot of people, especially those with personal connections to the Holocaust, for whom these types of romances are very upsetting, due to the fact that they can valorise characters who are implicitly or explicitly condoning Nazism. It isn’t the main romance of the book, but it is important to the story, and I didn’t want to review this without at least warning readers who might find that quite upsetting.

All that said, the book definitely has plenty of charm and quirk! The whole thing is told via letters, almost without exception, aside from one case where a private diary is used. This gives lots of room for characters and relationships to shine, which I’ve always really enjoyed. It can be difficult to make it read naturally; we don’t usually explain basic facts about our lives to our regular correspondents, after all! Letters can be so revealing, but it takes reading between the lines, and the best authors make that work in fictional letters too. I found the letters in this book mostly satisfying, and it’s made a little easier by the fact that many of the characters haven’t known each other before writing.

Because the whole thing rests on letters, the plot is somewhat basic; those characters and relationships have to carry the book. I will say that I would have preferred to see a couple more letters between a particular pair of characters, to develop things a little more and allow us to see them interacting and building a relationship. I was all on board for that relationship, but we see it mostly from outside after a certain point… it’d have been nice to get a better look at their growing friendship.

The thing that surprised me most, in the end, was the setting: I didn’t really know anything about Guernsey and its history, and now I want to!

My new review here will take us a bit further afield than Guernsey: I’ll be reviewing Emmi Itäranta’s The Moonday Letters. I have lots of thoughts about it already, so I’m looking forward to writing a proper review for everyone.

If you have ideas and recommendations for a book you’d like to see me review for this blog, get in touch! I have a topic on the forum for sharing these recommendations (you’ll need to be logged in to view it, and may need to browse the forum a little to open up all the areas first), or you can comment here.