Come and be killed
And so that leads us to He Should Have Died Hereafter, which has also been published under the title Untimely Death. In this book, the Pettigrew couple (Francis Pettigrew is apparently a recurring character) go on holiday to Exmoor. It’s a charming little place, which of course means that murder is just ‘round the corner. Francis recalls that when he was a child, he stumbled over a dead body on the moor. But now he’s a man, so he should be able to exorcise this demon—he decides to do so by walking over to the place where the incident occurred… only to stumble over another dead body.
But when he returns to the scene of the crime later, the body has disappeared, only for a body to reappear at the same spot a few days later. Is this a case of precognition? Hallucination induced by memories of the past? A wacky story invented on the spur of the moment to have something to tell the grandkids? A lie that someone decided to make into reality?
But if so, Agatha Christie unfortunately won this round. The situation, while imaginative, is never quite explored to its full potential. There are a few reasons for this—the book is remarkably short (my copy is under 200 pages) and almost half of it is concerned with complex legal details that emerge from the case. This doesn’t allow for much uncertainty and wondering about the nature of Pettigrew’s experience. After some initial considerations, we quickly are told that only this-and-that could have happened and we’re plunged into the legal details. And while the author seems to extract malicious delight in the complications he’s tossed into the legal system (given more credibility due to his real-life legal experience) I couldn’t help but feel what a marvellous opportunity he missed.
Overall, He Should Have Died Hereafter is very, very good at first: the situation it throws at the reader is genuinely mystifying. But Hare doesn’t take enough chances and instead of the book feeling like an original piece of craftsmanship, it’s somewhat forgettable. Agatha Christie took this plot idea and ran all the way with it in Sleeping Murder, which I would personally recommend over this particular book.