Thorne Smith - Topper (Modern Library, 1999: originally 1926)
Blurb: "[Thorne Smith] created the modern American ghost. A ghost with style and wit. A ghost that haunts us still." - The New York Times
Thorne Smith is a master of urbane wit and sophisticated repartee. Topper, his best-known work, is the hilarious, ribald comedy on which the hit television show and movie (starring Cary Grant) were based.
It all begins when Cosmo Topper, a law-abiding, mild-mannered bank manager, decides to buy a secondhand car, only to find it haunted by the ghosts of its previous owners - the reckless, feckless, frivolous couple who met their untimely demise when the car careened into an oak tree. The ghosts, George and Marion Kerby, make it their mission to rescue Topper from the drab "summer of suburban Sundays" that is his life - and they commence a series of madcap adventures that leave Topper, and anyone else who crosses their path, in a whirlwind of discomfiture and delight.
As enchanting today as it was when first published in 1926, Topper has set the standard in American pop culture for such mischievous apparitions as those seen in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Heaven Can Wait, Beetlejuice, and Bewitched.
It is the ROARING TWENTIES. The fall of Western Society is imminent again thanks to the usual troublemakers, i.e. BLOODY YOUNG PEOPLE. Why do they insist on trying to change the world when we've got everything so perfect? George and Marion Kerby are among the very worst of these so-called "Bright young things; "A gay life and a quick death" is their sick "with it" philosophy. At least the fastest couple in town are true to their ideals, and respectable folk breath a quiet sigh of relief when George wraps their flashy sports car around a tree while drink-driving home from a party. Or was it Marion behind the wheel? They all dress so deuced indecent, you can't tell the boys from the girls!
Cosmo Topper, bank manager, is one such upstanding pillar of the community. Flabby, pushing forty, bored out of his mind with his dull wife, dull life, Cosmo is an example to us all. You'll not find him scandalising the neighbourhood with so-called "jazz" music and smoking in public and wild carryings on - not until he buys the Kerby's haunted motor car, that is!
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.