Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Wednesday, April 19, 2023


 "Have a Nice Death" by Antonia Fraser (first published in Fiction, 1983; reprinted in Frasewr's collection Jemima Shore's First Case, and Other Stories, 1986; reprinted several other times, including in A Century of British Mystery and Suspense, edited by Anne Perry, 2000)

Casper Milquetoast Sammy Luke is a mousy little author who has finally made it (sort of) big with his sixth novel, Women Weeping, a masochistic, violent, and misogenystic work complete unlike anything he had written before.   Women Weeping has had incredible sales both in Sammy's native England and in America, causing Clodagh Jansen, Sammy's American editor, to arrange an American book tour, featuring Sammy on most of the top American television interview shows in the hopes of pushing sales even higher.  Clodagh was a lesbian and an ardent feminist, who openly said she supported potential best-sellers such as Sammy's in order to afford to publish less profitable, more radical books.  Sammy's wife, Zara -- whom Sammy relies on for everything, especially advice and courage -- had intended to accompany him but her mother fell ill at the last moment.  Sammy never realized how hen-pecked he was, nor how much Zara dominated him. Nervously, Sammy goes to America alone, carrying with him Zara's dire warnings about the untrustworthy and unfriendly Americans -- an opinion that Zara had had reinforced by her influential well-traveled, and opinionated friend Tess.

Sammy is surprised at how friendly every American he met was.  The man at the Customs desk wished him a nice day, as did his taxi driver, who also told him that New York was the friendliest city in the world.  The staff at his hotel, Clodagh Jenson, Sammy's American publicist Joanie, the people interviewing him...all treated him kindly.  the one phrase he consistently heard from all was, "Have a nice day."    Sammy's confidence grew, and with it his hoipes for a decent future; it appeared that his book would make he and Zara financially secure. 

Sammy got a telephone call at his hotel one night.  A female voice.  "I saw you on television last night.  You bastard, Sammy Luke, I'm coming up to your room and I'm going to cut off your little --"  The caller went into vivid, horrifying detail, closing with, "Have a nice death, Mr. Luke."

Clodagh. Joanie, the hotel operator and manager, the police -- were all sympathetic, but all felt this was just a harmless, albeit upsetting call.  the hotel agreed to screnn all calls going to Sammy's room.  When Sammy got another "Have a nice death call," the hotel operator had no record of the call going through...

"Have a Nice Death" ends ironically and not happily for Sammy.  It's proven to be one of Lady Antonia Fraser's most popular crime short stories.  The author (born 1932, now age 90) is most recognized for her historical novels, royal biographies, and histories.  In the mystery field, she is noted for her stories about investigative journalist Jemima Shore, which were the basis of the UK television series Jemima Shore Investigates.  She also won a Gold Dagger from the Crime Writer's Acciation for her nonfiction book, The Gunpowder Plot.  Her first husaband, Sir Hugh Fraser, was a close friend of the Kennedy family.  In 1975, she, her husband, and Caroline Kenndy -- who was visiting them -- narrowly avoided being killed by an IRA bomb planted in  his car; a neighbor of the Frasers was killed in the explosion.  Lady Antonia's second husband was the Nobel-winning author Harold Pinter.

"Have a Nice Death" has been described as a "wonderful puzzle story."


  1. Cool. FICTION snagged some good work over the years, and it's a pity it might finally be folded, after no issues for a couple of Covid years. Fraser and editor Perry too close to some nasty business in varying ways, clearly. I can't place what I might've read by Fraser at the moment, but I'm basically a symphony of tinnitus at the moment, so good morning to you!

  2. Turns out the few online original-publication citations are currently wrong, since the Fraser story first appeared in a 1983 issue of the pompously-titled THE FICTION MAGAZINE, a British quarterly at that point (it briefly became a monthly in 1988, then folded).