THE MORTICIAN'S BIRTHDAY PARTY by Peter Whalley

THE MORTICIAN'S BIRTHDAY PARTY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From the author of last year's darkly amusing Robbers: a nasty black-comic entertainment featuring a somewhat sympathetic wife-murderer--descended, more or less, from the mild-mannered killer in Francis Iles' classic Malice Aforethought. George Webster--chief mortician in small-town Arncaster, semiwealthy thanks to an inheritance--has married late. . .and disastrously. Young wife Elaine is cold, greedy, unfaithful, and fully prepared to make George miserable ad infinitum. So he quite reasonably murders her--first sleeping pills, then carbon monoxide; he sneaks her body over to the mortuary, where he dissects it into 14 pieces; and, over the next two weeks, George stashes each piece in another about-to-be-buried coffin. Meanwhile, too, he neatly creates the impression that Elaine has in fact run off and left him. A perfect crime? It would seem so. And George confidently proceeds to install a nubile local girl in his big house as ""housekeeper."" But then handsome young stranger Martyn Culley arrives in town, claiming(and genuinely believing) that he saw Elaine Webster alive after the weekend of her ""disappearance."" How could this be? George decides that Martyn (who's soon in bed with the housekeeper) is a blackmailer who somehow knows about the murder. So the ironic wind-up here--not quite plausible--involves an attempted murder, assorted mix-ups, and a grisly final twist. Even with that disappointing end-play: macabre mini-diversion (despite the hefty price-tag) for those partial to matter-of-fact gruesomeness and icy irony in the British manner.

Pub Date: June 10th, 1988
Publisher: Walker