‘…this crime is conditioned by the place. To understand the one you’ve got to study the other.’
Poisoned Pen Press|6 January 2020|223 pages|e-book |Review copy|4.5*
Fell Murder was first published in 1944. This edition, published in association with the British Library, has an introduction by Martin Edwards and also includes a rare E.C.R. Lorac short story ‘The Live Wire‘. It’s the 25th book featuring Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald, a shrewd detective, not easily ruffled or fooled.
E C R Lorac was a pen name of Edith Caroline Rivett (1894-1958) who was a prolific writer of crime fiction from the 1930s to the 1950s, and a member of the prestigious Detection Club. She formed her pseudonym by using her initials and for the surname, the first part of her middle name spelled backwards. She also wrote under the name of Carol Carnac.
I thoroughly enjoyed Fell Murder. I’ve read three other books by E C R Lorac, Bats in the Belfry, Fire in the Thatch, and Murder by Matchlight, all of which I enjoyed. Fell Murder is rather different. Set in Lunesdale in Lancashire towards the end of the Second World War, it has a slow start as Lorac takes 25% of the book to describe the landscape and introduces the characters. She obviously loved the area, just south of the Lake District, and describes in detail not just the scenery but the way of life of a close-knit community of farming folk. She also describes the changes to the traditional farming methods forced by wartime regulations and the uncertainty of living in an unstable and changing world.
Then the mystery begins with the discovery of the body of old Robert Garth – found dead–’dead as mutton‘–in the trampled mud of an ancient outhouse. The Garth family, live at Garthmere Hall, ruled by Robert with a rod of iron. The Hall is a gloomy medieval building, with mullioned windows, dating from Jacobean times but with a ‘new wing’ added in Queen Anne’s reign.
When the local police officer, Superintendent Layng, investigates the murder he doesn’t get very far, failing to win the confidence of the local people, finding their slowness in answering his questions frustrating and bewildering. So Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald from Scotland Yard is called in. There are a number of suspects, the main one being Robert’s eldest son Richard who had only just returned to the area, although not to his family, after an absence of twenty five years. Richard has a sister, Marion who helps run the farm, and two brothers, Charles, and Malcolm who all live at Garthmere Hall.
Macdonald’s understanding of the ways of the community helps him get to the bottom of the mystery. I had little idea who the culprit could be and think the ending was a bit rushed. What I enjoyed the most about this book are the characters and the way Lorac has captured the essence of that particular place and time during the War.
I also enjoyed the excellent short story, The Live Wire, which I thought was amusing and most original.
Many thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for a review copy via NetGalley.