Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to discuss Postern of Fate (1973), the final novel written by Agatha Christie, and will be doing so in full, spoiler-rich detail. Read no further unless you’re willing to be spoiled on this, probably the most-disregarded book in Dame Agatha’s oeuvre.
Disorientated, drenched, and on the verge of a fever, George Lassiter wanders the streets of London until attracted to a particular house which he breaks into in order to warm himself by the fire. While he is waiting in the darkness and warmth, three people enter, one of them apparently drops dead on the spot, and Lassiter beats a hasty retreat before being caught by a local bobby. Upon telling his story, the house is investigated and no sign of a body is found, so Lassiter is carted away to the local hospital. And when Lassiter’s friend, part-time sleuth and general man-about-town Jack Haldean, hears of his predicament, it’s the beginning of a complex and dangerous skein.
No, this is not a review of Cain’s Jawbone (1934) by Torquemada, a.k.a. Edward Powys Mathers. In order to review it, I must first read it, and reading it presents a difficulty as many of you will be aware…
I very nearly paid a king’s ransom for a secondhand copy of Walter S. Masterman’s debut The Wrong Letter (1926) a couple of years ago, since it was rare as rocking-horse teeth (wait, those are not rare…) and featured on Roland Lacourbe’s “100 Books for a Locked Room Library” list (or, well, the supplemental list of fourteen supposedly excellent impossible crime novels for which there were no French translations, at least). Then, in 2018, Ramble House made it easily available for much more sensible money, and here we are. More power to their elbow, frankly, as this is the strongest Masterman I’ve read, and has encouraged me to not write him off just yet.
Space Case (2014), the opening volume in Stuart Gibbs’ Moon Base Alpha trilogy, did a very good job of marrying some intelligent scientific speculation with an appealing juvenile detective and a decent whodunnit plot, and follow-up Spaced Out (2016) is even better again.
Firstly, good heavens the excitement of posting a John Dickson Carr review without then tagging it OOP — Polygon Books have Hag’s Nook (1933), The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941), and She Died a Lady (1943) in their stable, and the British Library and Otto Penzler have added more, with more to come. And after last week’s brilliant and baffling no-footprints murder in a lonely corner of England, and with my broadly chronological reading of Carr’s work bringing She Died a Lady back into my orbit, the stars seemed to be aligning on a reassessment of this, probably the most consistent contender for Best Carr Novel of All Time.
In the most recent episode of our podcast, I mentioned how Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger (1942) was the book which made me appreciate how threatening a poison pen campaign could actually be. And four years after Christie used the conceit to drive a town mad, surprise Crime Writers’ Association member Enid Blyton made it the background for some childhood japes. What fun!