Published by British Library
Publication date – 10 February 2022
Source – review copy
“Now tell us about your crime novel. Take my advice and don’t try to be intellectual over it. What the public likes is blood.”
The Surrays and their five children form a prolific writing machine, with scores of 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 there 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 taken her life after an evening at the Surrays’ hosting a set of publishers and writers, one of whom is 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.
The Surrays are a literary family, with authors, essayists and professors meeting at family gatherings. At one such gathering, Ruth, the middle sister, is found dead, believed to have committed suicide. However her brother Richard receives a letter from Ruth, dated the day of her death. That letter leads him to believe that Ruth didn’t commit suicide after all so he calls on his acquaintance Inspector Macdonald to investigate. Could the post after the post-mortem reveal a murder?
This is a classic closed room murder mystery. The culprit can only be one of a handful of people, the trouble is, no one has motive and so no one is above suspicion. Inspector Macdonald’s suspicions of foul play are confirmed when it becomes apparent that the supposed suicide note is not as it seems.
The family are close knit, though there are hints of a possible love rivalry between Ruth and her younger sister, Naomi, the cause of that rivalry an explorer that epitomes the term cad. Is it this which is the root of Ruth’s murder? Is Brandon, the centre of the triangle, the one who took Ruth’s life. Or is the will, found at the side of Ruth, the reason for her death? Does her publisher want something that she owns, a part of her literary estate, so much he was willing to hurry her demise? Macdonald has to decide who may have a motive, and who would then have the means to make a murder look like a suicide.
The death comes soon after the start of the book, once the scene has been set. So too does the investigation and there is thankfully little dilly-dallying about before the Inspector is after his man, or woman. The clues are there for the reader to follow, allowing them to play armchair detective.
I have read a few other Macdonald mysteries and can safely say that the books can be read in any order. Little is really revealed about the Inspector. He lives alone , has a steady, logical mind and isn’t prone to flaring tempers or moods. He understands the need to be circumspect, and stern when necessary and doesn’t seem to take personal affront at anyone who fails to assist him.
I usually find the novels in the Crime Classics series to be easy to fall into. By that I mean I soon become involved in the story. They tend not to be overly long, often around 250 pages, and immediately go back in time to one that is familiar to readers of Agatha Christie’s novels. The series features contemporaries of Christie, her fellow Detective Club members, authors who were celebrated at the time and have for one reason or another perhaps fallen out of the minds of contemporary readers. It often feels like hidden treasure is being discovered on reading one of the series. These are the types of stories where DNA isn’t yet a tool for solving crimes, it’s not even known about. Fingerprints are about the limit and forensics in its infancy or not even a thing. Books such as Post After Post-Mortem are more about the battle of wits between the murderer and the police.
A thoroughly enjoyable addition to the Crime Classics series. I’m glad there are more Macdonald books to discover.
You can buy a copy of Post After Post-Mortem at Bookshop.org here (this is an affiliate link so I may earn a little money if you purchase through it).
You can also pick up a copy from your local independent bookshop or Waterstones.