Post Mortem, first published in 1953, was the best-known novel published by Guy Cullingford (actually a woman called Constance Lindsay Taylor). It's a detective story narrated in the first person by an amateur sleuth. The unique feature of the story is that the narrator is investigating his own death. Yes, that's right, this is a case investigated by a ghost...
The deceased is Gilbert Worth, a moderately successful novelist who was a rather unpleasant fellow, which meant that several people had reason to wish him dead. The prime suspects are members of his family (wife, daughter and two sons) along with his mistress. The supporting cast includes his publisher, the family lawyer, and a number of servants including a bolshy gardener.
The tone of the story is fundamental, and it's relentlessly ironic. I was struck by the thought that one could easily imagine Richard Hull writing this story. It bears many of his hallmarks, including a focus on unattractive characters. Gilbert might have been a nasty piece of work, but he gets his come-uppance, not only as a victim, but also because he finds out what people really thought of him. The humour won't be to everyone's taste, but I was amused when I reread the story recently, having been slightly less impressed when I first came across the book many moons ago.
I thought that the idea for the novel was clever, but one that was difficult to execute successfully. (And Hull is a good example of someone who came up with splendid ideas, but did not always manage to turn them into effective full-length novels). But to my mind, Cullingford does a really good job of maintaining interest from start to finish. It's an unusual piece of work by an author of considerable accomplishment.
I remember this one was listed in HRF Keating's Crime & Mystery: The 100 Best Books (1993).
I've read this recently, and thought he did manage to pull it off. It certainly kept me reading.
I enjoyed especially some witty lines about publishing!
It is often a good idea to go back to books as you gain so much on a second reading at a different time of life.
In the intro to my 1990 edition Mr. Keating says:
To my amusement (and the author's) two American librarians who had gallantly undertaken to mount a display of all hundred titles were unable to find this one and wrote asking if its inclusion was some sort of British joke.
There seems to have been a fashion at the time for mysteries narrated by dead people as I can think of at least two other contemporary instances of the device, one French and one British.
The former is Olivier Séchan & Igor Maslowkski's wittily titled "Vous qui n'avez jamais été tués" (You Who Have Never Been Murdered) that won the prestigious Prix du Roman d'Aventures in 1950. It's a very funny book in the Richard Hull vein (Hull was completely unknown here back then but Maslowski read and spoke English fluently and must have been familiar with his work)
Then there is F. Addington Symonds's very intriguing "Murder of Me" in which the narrator predicts his own death and proceeds to guide his daughter through her investigation of the murder. Sadly it is one of those books easier to find in translation - copies of the original (and sole) English-language edition are extremely hard to find and thus extremely expansive.
Jane, you're so right. It's just a question of time, but I was glad I gave this one another go.
Ted, that's a typical wry Harry Keating line - thanks for sharing.
Xavier, I'm fascinated by the sound of those two titles. I'd like to ask you more about them, if I may. Please do drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have time
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