A fellow traveller is possibly a murderer

Over the past few years the British Library have reissued many crime novels from the mid-twentieth century in lovely covers. Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate is one of these reissues having being written in 1943 and set in the previous year.

The victim, a local councillor, travels home in a railway carriage with a number of individuals but his wife testifies that he never reached their house and his body is found by the side of the road with the payroll money for his firm missing from his briefcase. It seems obvious that theft is the motive but it transpires that our victim had a number of enemies. The police must investigate and they start with his fellow travellers.

This book is written in an unusual way in that the author takes a few of the characters and gives you their whole backstory explaining how they came to hate the victim but also a lot more about their lives. The book is really a series of short stories with pauses in between to follow the police investigation. I enjoyed this way of telling the story but it’s not traditional and it means that until you reach the denouement you never have enough information to guess who the murderer might be.

I thought that the backstories of the characters and the description of travelling during wartime were wonderful glimpses into the social history of the time – the author is also a bit hard on the German character which I suppose would also be appropriate given the date of writing.

As a crime novel this book isn’t completely successful and there is at least one major plot point not tied up at the end. It is, however, a very interesting read and one worth looking out for if twentieth century social history is of interest.

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