Two Chief Inspector Macdonald Books by E C R Lorac

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’ve read just a few of her Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald books., written under the name E C R Lorac – Bats in the Belfry (1937) , Fell Murder (1944), Murder by Matchlight (1945) and Fire in the Thatch (1946).

And recently I’ve read two more : Checkmate to Murder, first published in 1944 and Murder in the Mill Race, first published in 1952. These have been recently re-published by the British Library as part of the British Library Crime Classics, with introductions by Martin Edwards.

On a dismally foggy night in Hampstead, London, a curious party has gathered in an artist’s studio to weather the wartime blackout. A civil servant and a government scientist match wits in a game of chess, while Bruce Manaton paints the portrait of his characterful sitter, bedecked in Cardinal’s robes at the other end of the room. In the kitchen, Rosanne Manaton prepares tea for the charlady of Mr. Folliner, the secretive miser next door.

When the brutal murder of ‘Old Mr. F’ is discovered by his Canadian infantryman nephew, it’s not long before Inspector Macdonald of Scotland Yard is called to the scene to take the young soldier away. But even at first glance the case looks far from black-and-white. Faced with a bevy of perplexing alibis and suspicious circumstances, Macdonald and the C.I.D. set to work separating the players from the pawns to shed light on this toppling of a lonely king in the dead of night.

What I found fascinating in this book is the insight into what life was like in wartime London, complete with the London fog and the details of the blackout and although the Blitz was over there were still plenty of bangs and noise so that a gunshot wasn’t easily heard. The setting in a large studio that opens the book is a quiet scene as Bruce paints his sitter dressed as Cardinal Richelieu and two friends play a game of chess. Roseanne, Bruce’s sister is busy in the kitchen cooking their supper.Their evening is disrupted when a Special Constable bursts in with a young soldier in tow, claiming that he had killed his great-uncle in the next door building. This turns out to be more complicated than it first seemed. Even with just a limited number of suspects I couldn’t didn’t work out who the murderer was, nor how the murder had been committed. Macdonald explains it all at the end, having worked out ‘a reconstruction of the possibilities.’

~~~

When Dr Raymond Ferens moves to a practice at Milham in the Moor in North Devon, he and his wife are enchanted with the beautiful hilltop village lying so close to moor and sky. At first they see only its charm, but soon they begin to uncover its secrets – envy, hatred and malice.

Everyone says that Sister Monica, warden of a children’s home, is a saint – but is she? A few months after the Ferens’ arrival her body is found drowned in the mill race. Chief Inspector Macdonald faces one of his most difficult cases in a village determined not to betray its dark secrets to a stranger.

One of the things I think that Lorac excelled in was her settings. Each one is described so that you can easily picture the scenery and the landscape. And that is important in this book as Sister Monica drowned in the mill race, the stream leading into the water mill. She sets out through Macdonald exactly how that could have happened. She also conveys the atmosphere and the social interactions of an isolated village in Devon in the years just after the end of the Second World War. On the surface this is an idyllic village, but it is just like any other community, with a cross-section of personalities, and a mix of neighbourliness and an undercurrent of envy, hatred and malice. Sister Monica, a formidable woman, revered by some, is in charge of a children’s home, which she rules with a rod of iron and knows everything about everybody. Others regard her with caution, as the bailiff, Sanderson tells Anne Ferens, the doctor’s wife:

She is one of those people who can not only lie plausibly and with conviction, but she can tell a lie to your face without batting an eyelid, knowing that you know it’s a lie, and it’s very hard to bowl her out. (page 34)

But the village close ranks when she is found dead in the mill race and it is hard for Macdonald and Detective Inspector Reeeve to get the villagers to open up and and talk about what she was really like. It appears to be suicide, but is it?

My Friday Post: Checkmate to Murder by E C R Lorac

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring one of the books I’m currently reading, Checkmate to Murder: a Second World War Mystery by E C R Lorac, first published in 1944. One of the things I like about this book is the setting and atmosphere of wartime London, when details such as blackouts, fire-watching and air raid precautions were everyday events.

It begins:

The vast studio had two focus points of light; between two pools of radiance was a stretch of shadows, colourless, formless, empty. At one end of the long, barn-like structure, where the light was most strongly concentrated, was a model’s platform. A high-backed Spanish chair stood upon it, with a dark leather screen as background. On the chair sat a man arrayed in the superb scarlet of a Cardinal’s robe, the broad-brimmed Cardinal’s hat upon his head.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.
  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

“Deceased was a miser, one of the real old-fashioned storybook misers. I won’t say I haven’t met one before – I have, though they are getting less common than they used to be. D’you remember old Simple Simon, who was always getting run-in for begging on the Embankment – £525 we found under the boards in his bedroom when he died, and another fifteen pounds odd in his filthy bedding. He died of starvation at last.”

~~~

About the book:

On a dismally foggy night in Hampstead, London, a curious party has gathered in an artist’s studio to weather the wartime blackout. A civil servant and a government scientist match wits in a game of chess, while Bruce Manaton paints the portrait of his characterful sitter, bedecked in Cardinal’s robes at the other end of the room. In the kitchen, Rosanne Manaton prepares tea for the charlady of Mr. Folliner, the secretive miser next door.

When the brutal murder of ‘Old Mr. F’ is discovered by his Canadian infantryman nephew, it’s not long before Inspector Macdonald of Scotland Yard is called to the scene to take the young soldier away. But even at first glance the case looks far from black-and-white. Faced with a bevy of perplexing alibis and suspicious circumstances, Macdonald and the C.I.D. set to work separating the players from the pawns to shed light on this toppling of a lonely king in the dead of night.

What do you think – would you read this book?

Fell Murder: a Lancashire Mystery by E C R Lorac (British Library Crime Classics)

‘…this crime is conditioned by the place. To understand the one you’ve got to study the other.’

Fell Murder

Poisoned Pen Press|6 January 2020|223 pages|e-book |Review copy|4.5*

Murder by Matchlight (British Library Crime Classics ) by E C R Lorac

A Golden Age Mystery

Murder by Matchlight

Poisoned Pen Press|5 March 2019|288 pages|e-book |Review copy|5*

Fire in the Thatch: A Devon Mystery (British Library Crime Classics ) by E C R Lorac

A Golden Age Mystery

Poisoned Pen Press|5 June  2018 |240 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*

My Friday Post: Fire in the Thatch by E C R Lorac

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

The book I’m featuring this week is Fire in the Thatch by E C R Lorac, which is the book I’m planning to read next. It’s set as the Second world War is drawing to a close, but it was not published until 1946.

 

It begins:

Colonel St Cyres stepped out of the French window on to the terrace and drew in a deep breath of frosty air, conscious of the exhilaration of a glorious December morning. He always felt better out of doors. In the open air the worries and irritations of life seemed less immediate, and he felt that he lost a burden when he closed the window behind him.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

56%:

Well, the plain fact is this: gossip around Mallory Fitzjohn is saying that Gressingham was out in his car on the night of the fire, and that he’s denied the fact.

Description (Amazon)

The Second World War is drawing to a close. Nicholas Vaughan, released from the army after an accident, takes refuge in Devon – renting a thatched cottage in the beautiful countryside at Mallory Fitzjohn. Vaughan sets to work farming the land, rearing geese and renovating the cottage. Hard work and rural peace seem to make this a happy bachelor life.

On a nearby farm lives the bored, flirtatious June St Cyres, an exile from London while her husband is a Japanese POW. June’s presence attracts fashionable visitors of dubious character, and threatens to spoil Vaughan’s prized seclusion.

When Little Thatch is destroyed in a blaze, all Vaughan’s work goes up in smoke – and Inspector Macdonald is drafted in to uncover a motive for murder.

~~~

I enjoyed Bats in the Belfry by E C R Lorac, so I’m hoping I’ll enjoy this one too, another case for Chief Inspector Macdonald of Scotland Yard.

What about you? Does it tempt you or would you stop reading? 

Bats in the Belfry: A London Mystery (British Library Crime Classics ) by E C R Lorac

Poisoned Pen Press  2018 |233 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*