Book Review: Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate

One bleak Friday evening in January, 1942, Councillor Henry Grayling boards an overcrowded train with £120 in cash wages to be paid out the next day to the workers of Barrow and Furness Chemistry and Drugs Company. When Councillor Grayling finally finds the only available seat in a third-class carriage, he realises to his annoyance that he will be sharing it with some of his disliked acquaintances: George Ransom, with whom he had a quarrel; Charles Evetts, who is one of his not-so-trusted employees; a German refugee whom Grayling has denounced; and Hugh Rolandson, whom Grayling suspects of having an affair with his wife. 

The train journey passes uneventfully in an awkward silence but later that evening Grayling dies of what looks like mustard gas poisoning and the suitcase of cash is nowhere to be found. Inspector Holly has a tough time trying to get to the bottom of the mystery, for the unpopular Councillor had many enemies who would be happy to see him go, and most of them could do with the cash he was carrying. But Inspector Holly is persistent and digs deep into the past of all the suspects for a solution, starting with Grayling’s travelling companions. 

On a bitter January evening in 1942, Henry Grayling, who works at the Barrow and Furness Chemistry and Drugs Company, finishes work and goes to London Euston to catch the crowded 6.12 home to Croxburn.  The blackout, in the middle of winter, means that visibility is poor and the reduction in trains in order to save fuel, means that the platform is crowded. All this irritates Grayling and he ends up having to share a compartment with a mix of strangers, as well as  several people he knows from his home in Croxburn: Evetts, a despised colleague from the Barrow and Furness Chemistry Company; the local vicar sits beside him and opposite him is a German refugee who Grayling has denounced on no evidence but his own suspicions. George Ransom, a corporal in the home guard, who Grayling has had reason to take to task, and another local young man named Hugh Rolandson are all crammed into Grayling’s carriage.

 

Later that evening the vicar receives a phone call from Grayling’s much younger wife, pleading with him to come to the house – where her husband is on the verge of dying. When he arrives, the doctor has already been, but it is too late – Mrs Grayling, tells a the vicar of hearing a noise at her door and finding her husband collapsed on the steps outside, already blind, and struggling to breathe. His case is missing – as of course are the £120 in wages that were in it.  The post-mortem results are a surprise – he was killed from a dose of mustard gas (which isnt a gas after all). How could he be killed by something so toxic without anyone else on the train be affected? Or was he killed on the walk home and if so, how?

This is not a traditional police procedural – you get to see very little of Inspector Holly as the rest of the book is mainly taken up with the back stories for each person in the carriage, and how they ended up being suspects in a murder case. Evetts has been accused (correctly) of stealing drugs from the stock room, the vicar knows Grayling’s not religious and uses his church wardenship for unethical reasons; Hugh Rolandson has been having an affair with Grayling’s wife Renata for several years.  Ransom’s story in particular was a little too detailed for me and I was surprised that he would share this kind of information with a Home Guard colleague, even during the quiet times on duty whilst waiting for the bombs to come…..

It’s only in the last few chapters that Inspector Holly comes back into the frame as he tries to pull all the threads together, and he realises that there’s one specific tale that has a major flaw in it, and he manages to determine the killer (at pretty much the same time as the reader).

In summary: a different way of telling a crime story, that got bogged down in parts just a tad with just a little too much information, but was a nice change in approach that will stop people getting too jaded in reading this style of novel

About this author

Raymond Postgate was born in Cambridge in 1896, the eldest son of the classical scholar Professor J.P. Postgate. He was educated at St. John’s College, Oxford. During the First World War he was a conscientious objector and was jailed for two weeks in 1916. He married Daisy Lansbury, the daughter of George Lansbury, pacifist and leader of the Labour Party. His career in journalism started in 1918 and he worked for several Left-wing periodicals. He was also Departmental Editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica for its 1929 edition.

His son was Oliver Postgate, the popular creator of many classic British television programmes for children.

Advertisements

Inspector Montalbano: Equal Time, Collection 3, Episode 2

This is based on another short story, and therefore not based on a complete book.     

The episode starts with two men pulling up in a car, with one getting out and approaching a young blond girl on a moped. Scared, she throws her helmet at him and rides off, with the men giving chase. She nearly loses them a couple of times in the narrow backstreets, but decides to ditch the moped once out in the countryside. The men fire at her as she runs across the fields, missing her, but letting her go.

Continue reading

Inspector Montalbano: Turning Point, Collection 3, Episode 1

Based on the 7th book in the series, whose English title is “Rounding the Mark“, Salvo turns up to station to find workers getting rid of graffiti. He tries to keep Caterella’s spirits up, but when he goes through the eerily empty station, he decides to call the commissioner. Mimi over hears the conversation and realises that Salvo plans to resign after recent exposes as to police corruption.

 Mimi rails against him, telling him that he may feel betrayed, but his resignation would be a betrayal of those who actually work for and respect him.

Continue reading

Inspector Montalbano: The goldfish and the Cat, Collection 2, Episode 6

montalbano-2

On the way to church, Mrs Todaro gets mugged, has her handbag taken, and a revolver is fired at close range but somehow misses.

Mimi comes in to pick up some papers, reminds Salvo re the wedding date and that he needs to pick up the rings, something Salvo has clearly forgotten, again. Meanwhile headquarters are sending cover for the month Mimi is off.

Continue reading

Inspector Montalbano: Turning Point, Collection 3, Episode 1

montalbano-fazioI cant tell which book this comes from – it’s certainly not known under this name anyway – so cant do a “compare and contrast”.  Salvo turns up to station to find workers getting rid of graffiti. He tries to keep Caterella’s spirits up, but when he goes through the eerily empty station, he decides to call the commissioner (who is out of the office). Mimi overhears the conversation, and realises that Salvo plans to resign after recent raids on the police.  Mimi rails against him, telling him that he may feel betrayed, but his resignation would be a betrayal of those who actually work for and respect him.

Continue reading

Inspector Montalbano, The Scent of Night, Collection 2, Episode 5

The scent of the NightThis is the 6th book in  the series, but slightly later in the TV series. The episode starts with Salvo turning up to a hostage situation, where the 80 year old Garzullo is holding Miss Consentino, the secretary of banker Gargano, hostage, claiming to have been robbed by Gargano. Salvo resolves the issue by pretending the banker has already been arrested, so holding the hostage is pointless. As usual, it’s great use of old Sicilian actor as the wronged man.

Continue reading

Book Review: Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay

 

Death on the Cherwell Book ReviewFor Miss Cordell, principal of Persephone College, there are two great evils in the world: unladylike behavior among her students and bad publicity for the college. So her prim and cosy world is turned upside down when a secret society of undergraduates meets by the river on a gloomy January afternoon, only to find the drowned body of the college bursar floating in her canoe.

The police assume that a student prank got out of hand, but the resourceful Persephone girls suspect foul play, and take the investigation into their own hands. Soon they uncover the tangled secrets that led to the bursar’s death – and the clues that point to a fellow student.

Received from Poisoned Pen Press, via Netgalley, in exchange for a review.

I’ve been in two minds as to whether to write a review right now about this book, but decided to give it a go. I read this in late 2016, at a time that I became a touch apathetic around reading in general, and this might well have soured enjoyment of any book I read during this time.

Continue reading