Friday, 17 February 2017

Forgotten Book - Somebody at the Door

The British Library has done crime fans a service by republishing Raymond Postgate's admirable crime novel Verdict of Twelve, but today I want to talk about that book's much less renowned successor, Somebody at the Door, first published in 1943. It's a story which shares some features in common with its predecessors, and again Postgate uses fiction to illustrate his belief that our personal histories determine what happens in our lives..

The story begins at Euston Station, one Friday evening in January, 1942. A cashier called Grayling, who also serves on the local council at Croxburn, is travelling home with a suitcase full of cash - wages to be handed out to the staff on Monday. Grayling shares a carriage with a group of people, several of whom are known to him personally. That evening, he dies at home, and it becomes clear that he has been the victim of a highly unusual murder. One possibility is that he was poisoned by one of his fellow passengers.

Postgate devotes most of the story to a series of accounts of the lives of some of those passengers. Although the killer's m.o. is unorthodox, it seems - amazingly - possible that it may have been employed by a number of people who have motives to wish Grayling harm. For Grayling, it turns out, was a nasty piece of work, a mean-minded hypocrite who was involved in local government corruption (the description of his various scams is quite fascinating).

Postgate's radical political views, and his atheism, inform the narrative. No character with conservative attitudes or religious beliefs comes out of the story unscathed. At times the political digressions are over-done, and as a result, of this, and one or two structural flaws, the book isn't as compelling as Verdict of Twelve. It's also a bleak book, not remotely comfort reading. But it's extremely interesting nonetheless, and deserves to be better known.

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