Too Soon to Die (Henry Wade)

By Henry Wade

First published: UK, Constable, 1953

My review

Probably the second best of the late ones, after A Dying Fall.  It doesn’t have enough plot to work as a straight detective story, although might as a short story, but succeeds as an inverted.  It’s satisfying seeing the crucial details from both the police and the murderer’s sides.  Tension slackens towards the end, though; the case has been proved, now to arrest Grant.

Wade handles his material better than in Diplomat’s Folly, making it a better “crime novel”.  (Folly, like Bury Him Darkly, was one where I felt Wade could have done more with his material; Nicholas Blake or Michael Gilbert would have.)

The main theme is the unhappiness of post-war Britain.

  • Plot: old gentry vs. Government—conservative, top-down hostility towards Welfare State and taxation; taxation leads to fraud and murder
  • References to Britain’s poverty, with even the police complaining that the economy won’t allow them to buy radios\
  • Sea-side resorts in mid-winter
  • Loneliness (Grant, Marion) and selfishness (Grant—made cold and hard by the war).  Baby is the new hope—the heir and next of the Jerrolds that Grant wanted.  Some very mature characterisation, too—the treatment of the loveless marriage and Grant’s frigid wife (this is, after all, from the same writer who gave us quasi-incest in The Duke of York’s Steps), and the relationship between Grant and Marion, both miserable, and Grant’s confession to Marion in Ch. 20.

And all this within the framework of the traditional detective story, complete with plot and humdrum detection!

  • Impoverished gentry—death duties (Estate Duty); obsessive family pride.
  • Freeman: inverted story; impersonation / fraud; suspicions raised by lawyers / tax officials; dentures.
  • Similar to Rhode’s The Two Graphs: SPOILER impersonation of brother; yachting ‘accident’.
  • Young generation worse than Wade’s generation—amoral.

Contemporary reviews

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 11th January 1952):

Colonel Jerrod is warned that he is going to die before his five-year period of “necessary survival” is up and his son can take over the property free of estate duty.  He conspires (“They’ve turned us all into twisters.  All this rationing…”) to defraud the Revenue.  One of Mr. Wade’s neat circumstantial police investigations follows.  Satisfying and verisimilitudinous.