Post After Post-Mortem (Inspector Macdonald 11) by ECR Lorac

The psychology of crime…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

The Surrays are a golden family, all highly intelligent and successful in their chosen fields and all happy in each other’s company. But recently the middle sister, Ruth, has been causing a little concern to her older brother, Richard, whose trained eye as a psychiatrist has noted that she seems to be struggling with stress. Her latest book has just been completed and will doubtless meet with the same critical acclaim as her previous work, and Richard suggests to their mother that she might try to tempt Ruth to go away for a holiday with her. But before this can happen, Ruth is found dead in her bedroom at her parents’ home, complete with sleeping pills, farewell note and a new will, leaving little doubt that she has taken her own life. Following the inquest which returns the expected verdict Richard returns to his own home, where he finds a letter from Ruth, written on the evening of her death and delayed in the post, in which she seems quite happy and is making plans for the following week. Although he’d rather not cause his family, especially his mother, any further anxiety, Richard feels he must show the letter to an acquaintance of his, Inspector Macdonald of the Yard, who confirms that the letter is reason to investigate Ruth’s death more closely…

Each time I read one of Lorac’s books I find it harder to understand how it is that she became “forgotten” when so many other writers, of equal or less talent, have remained more securely in print and public favour. I wonder if it’s that she tried so many different things, rather than finding a successful formula and sticking to it? As I was reading this one, I was convinced it must be quite a late novel, post-war, probably well into the ’50s. It concentrates far more than Golden Age novels usually do on the psychology of the various characters – on the effects of success and expectations, self-discipline and the impact of feeling driven to achieve. In that aspect, it reads more to me like the novels of PD James, Ruth Rendell, Julian Symons and their generation rather than the mystery stalwarts of the between-wars era. I was surprised therefore when I read the foreword (after I’d read the book, of course) to discover that it was published in 1936, when I suspect it must have felt well ahead of its time – perhaps so much so that it didn’t quite fit with the expectations or preferences of mystery readers of the time. Pure speculation, of course, but I do feel you never quite know what you’re going to get with Lorac, in the way you do when you pick up a Freeman Wills Croft, a John Dickson Carr or even an Agatha Christie.

Inspector Macdonald is quickly convinced that Ruth’s death was murder, and he has a variety of suspects to consider. As well as the parents, the family includes Ruth’s two brothers and two sisters, and there was a small house party at the time with three men whom Ruth had invited, each connected to her writing career in one way or another. On the face of it, the members of this happy family could have had no reason to kill a beloved sister, but Macdonald feels that more than one of them is hiding something, perhaps to protect their mother from more hurt but perhaps for darker reasons. The same applies to the three guests – each seems reluctant to share information with Macdonald that he feels may be relevant, but that they feel may simply serve to tarnish the reputation and legacy of Ruth as a writer. Ruth herself was something of a contradiction – a brilliant intellectual with much to say in her novels about the human condition, but in her personal life emotionally naive and even repressed. Her recent infatuation with a man who seemed entirely not her type had appeared out of character to those who knew about it, and his rejection of her had broken through her usual cool reserve.

We get to know Inspector Macdonald quite a bit more deeply in this one, and he comes over as someone with empathy for those affected by crime, but with an over-riding belief that justice for the victim takes precedence over the feelings of the bereaved. We also see him take a personal dislike to one of the suspects, and his own self-awareness of that and determination to ensure he doesn’t let it sway his judgement. While he is looking for clues in the psychological make-up of the suspects, the reader is being given clues to his own psychology, and it’s all interestingly and credibly done. Detective Reeves is in it too, and again we get to know him rather better as an individual this time than in other books where he’s appeared.

I think it is more or less fair-play and I felt a bit smug because I spotted one of the crucial clues, although I couldn’t quite get from it to either the who or why. Perhaps a little darker than some of her other books as stories that go into the psychology of crime often are, I found it absorbing and very well constructed, so that there were no dips in interest level along the way. I say it every time, but Lorac really is the brightest star in the BL’s sparkling firmament and even if the series had done nothing else, bringing her back to her deserved prominence would still have made it well worthwhile. Highly recommended.

Amazon UK Link

39 thoughts on “Post After Post-Mortem (Inspector Macdonald 11) by ECR Lorac

  1. Enjoyable review, FF, and I join Cathy in adding it to my list! This is the second or third time recently I’ve come across a reference/review of Lorac. I haven’t read any of her work, but she definitely sounds like a writer I’d find fun to read.
    You raise a most interesting point regarding why some very talented writers seem to fall through the cracks, while lesser talents survive in print. I agree with you that at least one factor is that their work doesn’t fit a formula or isn’t easily assigned to a “type.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • I hope you enjoy Lorac when you get a chance to try her. She’s been a great find for the BL, and through them for the rest of us!
      I wondered too if her obscurity might be because she left no family when she died, so no one was championing her work or had a vested financial or emotional interest in keeping her books in print. Whatever, I’m glad she’s back in the public eye!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You make such an interesting point, FictionFan, about Lorac’s trying different sorts of stories. This one definitely sounds different to other types of stories she’s done, al though it’s a whodunit, as a lot of them are. She tried yet other things under her various pen names, too. I find that fascinating! At any rate, it’s good to know you enjoyed this as much as you did. It’s getting a place right now on the wish list!

    Liked by 1 person

    • She really is versatile, while still sticking to the basic murder mystery idea. Of the still relatively few I’ve read, there have been light ones with humour, darker ones like this, wartime settings, urban and rural settings – she’s hard to pigeonhole! I do like that feeling of not knowing what you’re going to get, although I also love the comfort of other authors of knowing exactly what you’re going to get! I guess there’s plenty of room for both, and it’s a pity some of the good writers have slipped through the cracks over the years.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pat yourself on the back, FF — you *have* tempted me with this one! It sounds like just the sort of book I need to add to my TBR right now … perfect for the gloomy, rainy days we’ve been having here!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hurrah! I must say these vintage crimes are great for those times when we just want something enjoyable, that isn’t going to harrow our souls. They’ve become my weekend comfort reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This book sounds really good! You introduced this author to me. Like you, I don’t understand why she didn’t become a household name like the usual suspects (Christie, James, Marsh, etc.). At a previous job many years ago, one of my supervisors introduced me to P.D. James and Ngaio Marsh. But she never once mentioned Lorac.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I read all the big names in my youth, and my sister was a major fan of all the stuff that we now think of as vintage and had a huge collection, and yet I’d never heard of Lorac either till the BL brought her back to prominence. It’s a mystery – in my opinion she’s easily as good as Marsh or Allingham. I’m glad you’ve been enjoying her too!

      Like

  5. This sounds excellent and your reference to PD James makes me all the more tempted to add it to my TBR! Hopefully I’ll get to one of hers on my CC list before too long.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This one definitely felt more like those later post-war writers although some of her other books are more in the style of the ’30s mystery writers. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think of her when you get to her!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll confess, when I checked Amazon, this one wasn’t available in Kindle yet, but there were several if hers (not BL) for just 99 cents each! I downloaded two!! So now I have four to read!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Haha, those 99p offers are killers – half my TBR is because I couldn’t resist1 I have one or two of hers too, but I never seem to find time to read any vintage except the BL books and the ones for my everlasting 100 Books challenge…

          Liked by 1 person

    • It really is a mystery, isn’t it? It occurred to me after I’d written the post that perhaps it’s also to do with the fact that she left no family when she died, so no one with a vested financial or emotional interest in keeping her books in print. But whatever the reason, I’m glad she’s been returned to her rightful place in the sun now!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m waiting for this to become available at the Library. I’ve enjoyed all the Lorac books I’ve read and one with a deeper dose of psychology will be an extra treat. I’m looking forward to reading this one. Thanks for your great work in promoting an author whose work should be enjoyed more widely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I must say I’ve enjoyed promoting the BL series a lot! It’s so popular now it doesn’t need much promotion, but I still look forward to seeing what they bring out each month. 😀 I think you’ll enjoy this one. I like that she varies her style and tone so that each book is like a new little adventure…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It is intriguing as to why she was forgotten. As you say, maybe she was ahead of her time and less predictable than others and so didn’t capture the public imagination in the same way. Great that she’s experiencing a resurgence now!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is odd, given how good she is. The only other think I can think is that she left no family when she died, so no one with a vested financial or emotional interest in keeping her books in print. But whatever the reason I’m so glad the BL has brought her back to the prominence she deserves!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I really like the sounds of this one, and like you, I’m surprised it was published in 1936! This is just ignorance on my part, but it always seems as though people of older generations claimed they never had time to analyze each other’s thoughts and feelings because they were so busy with other more important things like – the wars, the depression, getting food on the table, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that’s very true and to be honest I still feel that it’s not particularly healthy for people to be analysing their feelings all the time. People certainly don’t seem to be happier by fixating on themselves – quite the reverse in fact, if suicide rates and anti-depressant addictions are an indication! It’s also why I get so tired of contemporary fiction which is nearly all about people looking inwards to their own thoughts and feelings, rather than outwards to the exciting world out there and the universe beyond! I definitely think it’s a generational thing…

      Liked by 2 people

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