INNOVATIONS: In Dead to the World (1947) Manner’s sophomore and last work as a detective novelist we have quite a melding of genres -- ghost story, detective novel and a timeslip plot motif so often found in science fiction stories. Other notable novels incorporating the motifs of a ghost who solves its own murder are Post Mortem (1953) by Guy Cullingford and for time travel in the context of a detective fiction plot we have Repeat Performance (1942) by William O’Farrell. While the ghost story aspect is often played for laughs and the time travel is hazily explained there is no doubt that Manners has concocted a legitimate detective novel with more than the requisite plot twists and unexpected developments.
|UK edition (Hector Kelly, Ltd., 1954)|
What isn’t too easy to accept is the way the ghost travels around the city. Because he is a wisp of a being and can’t actually be seen by anyone other than his wife who summoned him he is a bind when it comes to getting from place to place. Since he is invisible to nearly everyone he can’t, for instance, hail a cab, so he finds it necessary to hitch rides by closely following a human inside. His “vaporous fingers” can’t turn on a light switch or grasp and turn a door knob. He must wait for humans to perform these actions for him. Yet when it serves the plot he can easily pass through walls in order to access a room! He also behaves too much like a human, taking off clothes in order to sleep, and putting on shoes before leaving his house. Very odd for a ghost, I’d say. These infrequent inconsistencies in the construct of the fantasy world led me to give Manners a few demerits for laziness.
|Still from the film Laura (1944)|
All is explained in the end including the quirky reason for the appearance of the ghost in the first place. For such a violent and tough action-oriented book there are happy endings all around with several reunions, a couple of planned weddings and a final smile inducing touch of irony in the penultimate chapter.