Somebody at the Door is one of the British Library Crime Classics, originally published in 1943. It’s set in 1942 and it gives a vivid picture of what life was like in wartime England. There is an interesting introduction by Martin Edwards.
In January 1942, Henry Grayling is on the 6.12 train from Euston, travelling home to Croxburn from work in London. There’s a fuel shortage so there are less trains than usual and the carriages are crowded – Grayling views all his fellow passengers with dislike and suspicion as he clutches his attache case, containing £120 pounds close to his chest.
He sits next to a young man, Evetts, who works for the same company and is smoking a foul smelling pipe, and on his other side is the Vicar of Croxburn, both of whom he knows. He also recognises Ransom, a corporal in the Home Guard platoon in which he, Grayling is a second lieutenant. The other occupants of the carriage are a fair young man with a club foot, a refugee doctor, a fat middle aged woman and her teenage daughter, and two young working men in overalls. Most of the passengers are suffering from colds, coughing and sneezing and Grayling has to hold his handkerchief in front of his nose. He is relieved to leave the train when it eventually pulls into the station at Croxburn. However, when Grayling arrived home he is seriously ill and dies later that evening.
An autopsy reveals that he had died of mustard gas poisoning and Inspector Holly finds that there are too many suspects; Grayling was an extremely unlikable person. The rest of the book reads like a collection of short stories as Holly investigates Grayling’s fellow passengers. Their stories are detailed and at times I felt they were too long and slowed the book down too much, but they are interesting in themselves. I particularly like the German refugee’s story, casting light on what life was like in Germany just before and at the onset of the war.
I did enjoy the book, the characters stand out as real people and also reflect Postgate’s own likes and dislikes. Martin Edwards’ introduction gives the background to Postgate’s writing – he was an atheist and a one-time Communist. His stories reveal the corruption in local government at that period, and the attitudes of the British government in the lead up to the war. The murder mystery is really secondary to the suspects’ stories, which makes the book more a reflection of the period, which Postgate does really well, than crime fiction. However, the murder mystery is well plotted, giving me plenty to unravel and it was only in the final section that I guessed who had killed Grayling.
- Kindle Edition
- File Size : 3089 KB
- Print Length : 239 pages
- Publisher : British Library Publishing (10 Oct. 2017)
- Source: Prime Reading Library