He Should Have Died Hereafter aka Untimely Death (1958) by Cyril Hare

Retired lawyer, Francis Pettigrew, has decided to return to the Exmoor of his youth for a summer holiday. Reliving his childhood, he heads to a remote spot on the moor, a spot where he had an experience that he had blocked from his memory – finding a dead body. As he arrives in a bid to banish the ghosts of his past, it seems the ghosts have a different idea. For in the same place that Pettigrew saw the dead body is a fresh corpse. A corpse that is going to disappear from and reappear two days later in the same spot.

Luckily for Pettigrew, his old friend Inspector Mallett is in the area, coming out of retirement to help. But with Pettigrew’s memory clouded by illness and age, did he hallucinate the first corpse? Because it soon becomes very important exactly when the man died…

Did you know that a woman shouldn’t carve a ham? Well, not a good ham anyway. That’s one of the pearls of wisdom you can learn from this book. Oh, and don’t quote the poet Swinburne at breakfast.

This is an odd book. Beautifully written, the descriptions of Exmoor and Pettigrew’s observations are fascinating, if a little dated in places, and draw the reader into the narrative. Which is good, as the book is pretty short and there isn’t a great deal of plot and detection going on.

What plot there is, to be fair, is actually pretty clever, with Hare doing a good job of looking at events in completely the wrong way – the cause of death was pretty obvious though. But he’s more interested in the characters and crams most of the plot revelations into the last chapter, when a larger page count have benefitted the tale, in my opinion.

All in all, an interesting read that could have been better.

Availability: Second hand copies only, I’m afraid. Not the hardest Green Penguin to find though… However, it is available as an ebook under its other title, Untimely Death.

Just The Facts, Ma’am: WHO – Lawyer/Barrister/Judge, etc

9 comments

  1. This was Hare’s last book, published posthumously, that is probably why it is so short and the revelations seem so crammed. Had he not died, there may have been some fleshing out of the narrative (kind of like Van Dine’s THE WINTER MURDER CASE — shorter than usual because of the author’s death).

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    • Now that’s interesting. The central theme of Pettigrew getting a bit past it and forgetting things might have been Hare channelling his own experiences. Do you know if someone else finished it for him, or he rushed to ending – presumably he knew he wasn’t long for the world in that case…

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