Crook O’Lune by E.C.R. Lorac – a rural Lancashire Mystery from 1953 reprinted in the British Library Crime Classics series

Crook O’Lune by E.C.R. Lorac 

This book is subtitled “A Lancashire Mystery”, which is highly suitable for a book which reveals in its setting, making the most of the distinctive and largely deserted Lune Valley. It is written with the affection, detail and knowledge that distinguishes writing by an author who really knows an area. This is the sometimes bleak, challenging land of hill country in which farming and life is tough, known only by locals in all its ways. It is set in Lancaster, but as far away from the industrial areas as it is possible. While this excellent novel was originally published in 1953, its recent reprint in the British Library Crime Classics series has not only made it available once more, but also meant the addition of a fascinating Introduction by Martin Edwards, which details his visit to the area to see the hostelry and much else which remains. He also details the overlap between the families and characters who have been the inspiration for the novel, as well as the local stories. It is a very enjoyable story that I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review. 

The characters that people this story are also given far more depth than is often the case in a mystery novel. While most of the story is told from Lorac’s recurring character Chief Inspector Macdonald’s perspective, the first three chapters are given over to the newly arrived in the area, Gilbert Woolfall. He has just inherited Aikengill house on which most of the story is centred. He lives and works in a city, but like many others, is entranced by the house and area in which it is placed. He is beginning to make up his mind to move there, though with no view to actually farming the sheep which are the reason for people to be there, the only real produce of the hilly ground. Thus he encounters the local characters alongside the reader; the farmer who rents the land, the housekeeper who is finding it hard to move on, and especially the local priest who is a joyless, somewhat bitter man. The Rector, Mr Tupper, feels his grievances deeply and turns up at the house to express his annoyance that the late Thomas Woolfall, Gilbert’s uncle, did not leave a bequest to benefit the church or his stipend. It is patiently explained to him that Thomas had not only remodelled the house but also spent years going through old papers which set out that earlier Woolfalls had left historic bequests to ensure a clergy presence in the immediate area and a school. When Macdonald turns up to spend a holiday with his good friends the Hoggetts, he hears of the dispute among other local gossip. Macdonald is thinking of investing his own inheritance in a farm in the area when he has finished working for the police in London. He is inspired to help investigate a local mystery of sheep stealing, but it is when Aikengill house is set alight with fatal consequences that Macdonald really gets involved. Fortunately he is able to tackle the walks and climbs that are involved in the unforgiving landscape,as local loyalties and actions come under suspicion.

I really enjoyed this book, even though I am no farmer or rural dweller, but it is so vividly described that I could almost visualise the places mentioned. This book benefits not so much from research as experience of its setting, while the characters are well introduced and maintained in their variety and depth. The plot is clever and exciting, as figures that ought to be clear in such a deserted landscape appear unexpectedly. There is a good postwar atmosphere to the book, even though most of the inhabitants would not have had much direct experience of the War’s effects. It is a book that kept my attention throughout and I really enjoyed, and I would accordingly recommend this reprinted gem from a talented and entertaining author.   

These Names Make Clues by E.C.R. Lorac – A 1937 murder mystery of literary and other clues reprinted in the British Library Crime Classics series

These Names Make Clues by E.C.R. Lorac

A clever and deceptively complex book from 1937, this book has been rescued from obscurity by Martin Edwards and the British Library in their Crime Classics series. When originally published in 1937 by the writer Edith Caroline Rivett it seemed to fit in well with the Golden Age of Detection in that it featured a treasure hunt in which a mixture of authors and one detective had to solve a series of puzzles of literary and other clues. This novel idea meant that the story hinged on the idea of experts gathered in a large house who all had experience of writing mysteries or at least carrying out solid literary research to compile a coherent narrative. When an unexplained death takes place in the house during the event there ought to be plenty of theories about what really happened, especially as the brother and sister hosts are quick thinking and mainly practical people. As befits a woman writer there is a good split of female and male protagonists, which I think greatly adds to the careful blend of characters and clues. As usual in this excellent reprint series, Martin Edwards introduces the author, the context of the book and points out how some of the characters may have resembled Lorac’s fellow Detection Club members, one hopes to their amusement. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this entertaining addition to the British Library Crime Classics series. 

The novel is largely navigated through the point of view of Chief Inspector Macdonald as he receives an invitation to attend a Treasure Hunt from publisher Graham Coombe and his sister Susan. He is unsure about attending an entertainment event when he is an actual detective at Scotland Yard, but is assured that everyone will be present under a pseudonym so it will be far from clear who is author and who is actual detective. His friend encourages him to attend, and certainly he finds much to intrigue him when he arrives at the designated address. Each thriller writer and “Straight” author has been given a name under which they will act for the evening, which I found a really entertaining as Lorac uses them for the first part of the book to delineate the characters under their alias, so phrases like “Jane Austen who completed her cipher a split second before Laurence Sterne and Izaak Walton”.  Eventually there is a revelation of who is who, but that is when the dire necessity of a full investigation happens. For amid all the puzzle solving and cipher breaking going on using reference and other books as well as clues scattered throughout the house, all the lights go out. The extremely practical Susan soon provides candles, but not before there is a lot of bumping into people in the dark and various people moving about the house in a confusing manner. That confusion becomes significant when the body of a participant is discovered in the telephone room, and there is some confusion as to whether it is a natural, if sudden, death. Macdonald’s presence is soon relevant when there are hints of suspicious activity in the room which throws doubt on the certainty of natural causes, and there soon develops a complex case of suspicion, motives and further events.

My favourite character in the novel is undoubtedly Susan, as she takes charge of the situation with her clear view of the circumstances and people involved. Overall I thoroughly recommend this book for its cleverly constructed plot, the characters with their pseudonyms, and the depiction of literary London of the time with its interconnections and links. It is a worthy addition to the series.      

Checkmate to Murder by E.C.R. Lorac – a Wartime mystery from British Library Crime Classics

Checkmate to Murder: A Second World War Mystery (British Library Crime  Classics): E.C.R. Lorac: 9780712353526: Books

Checkmate to Murder by E.C.R. Lorac


A 1944 novel written with heavy fog, blackouts and blitz in the background, this is a murder mystery which is full of background atmosphere in all respects. This novel has happily been republished in the British Library Crime Classics and is another prized book by the successful and excellent Caroline Rivett who also wrote as Carol Carnac. The helpful Introduction written by Martin Edwards tells of Lorac’s war experience which featured her sadness at her friends’ being “bombed or burnt out of their homes”. This first hand observation lends so much credibility to a novel in which dense fog and the need to check the effectiveness of the blackout on a building are central to the facts of the novel, as well as the atmosphere of threat and excitement brought by the presence of a special constable and an off duty soldier. Uncertainty is at the heart of a clever mystery surrounding the brutal murder of an old man who seems to have been a miser in an essentially secret way. The characters, or suspects as it emerges in this clever and atmospheric novel, are variously described and expanded on in terms of dialogue, as their voices and speeches are presented in a lively way. Lorac’s clever and thoughtful Inspector Macdonald appears alongside his colleagues , Detectives Ward and Reeves, in a thorough investigation via dogged pursuit of everyone who may have relevant knowledge. This is such a good read and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this special book. 


The novel begins as Lorac sets the scene in an artist’s studio, lit in a specific way to allow the activities to continue despite the darkness and fog outside. At one end an artist, Bruce Manaton, paints a portrait of his model, an actor dressed in borrowed robes. Andre Delaunier is splendidly arrayed as a Spanish Cardinal, a memorable if bored sitter. At the other end two men, two respectable men sit absorbed in a game of chess. Robert Cavendish and Ian Mackellon are both respectable government employees, brought together by a love of chess. Meanwhile, Rosanne Manaton, sister of the rather temperamental  artist, is constructing a meal for those present from rations, as well as providing tea for a charlady who has been looking after their landlord who lives next door, the elderly Mr Folliner. When the door bursts open to admit an officious special constable dragging an injured young soldier the assembled group offer assistance, but the unpleasant man tells them a crime has been committed nearby and it is their duty to supply a lock up room to detain the young man while he bustles off to contact his police headquarters. They agree to take care of him while the message is passed on, though Rosanne feels sorry for the young man who has wrenched his ankle. It is the beginning of an investigation that will test the deductive powers of Macdonald and his men, as well as inquiring into many people both present and absent in the area that night. 


This is a clever and ultimately satisfying novel which contains effective descriptions of the atmosphere and setting in a run down part of London during wartime. The characters are so well realised, from the major actors to the peripheral people who supply the small clues and red herrings central to a sophisticated and successful mystery. The detection is both logical and consistent. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to those who enjoy murder mysteries and atmospheric wartime novels.


So this is another great read from the British Library Crime Classics series, and from the fascinating Second World War period which brings to life the weariness of London life. Whether writing as ECR Lorac or Carol Carnac, she wrote books which were clever and challenging entertainment which we can still appreciate today- especially in the Classics series.


Fell Murder by E.C.R. Lorac – A British Library wartime classic crime novel of farming life.

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A murder set in the rolling countryside of Lancashire during the last years of the Second World War. Farming, country life and long held grudges. A family at war in all senses, a contrast of detecting styles and wonderful descriptions of the actual work carried out on a wartime farm all go to make this a grounded and immensely readable book in the wonderful series of Classic Crime from the British Library.  As picked up by Martin Edwards in his informative and personal introduction, this book represents an author at “the height of her powers” depicting her beloved countryside and her deep knowledge of the actual work of farmers, especially at a time of necessary maximum production and regulation. The characters are brilliantly drawn in all their defining behaviour and inconsistencies as real people in an area of traditional lifestyles and knowledge of neighbours. Ranging from the stubborn patriarch whose physical capabilities reflect his domination of everyone in the household, through the loyal tenant and the embittered neighbour, this is a book of real observation and understanding of life in rural communities. Despite the struggles of the first detective to elucidate anything from the thoughtful speech of potential witnesses, this is a standout novel in an excellent series of reprinted gems from the golden age of detection in twentieth century Britain. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent novel with its well plotted and paced story of danger and detection.


The book opens with the solid and reliable bailiff, John Staple, looking out over the land he has walked, farmed and cared for over his entire life. A man approaches him, and he comes to recognise Richard Garth, eldest son of his employer the indomitable Robert Garth. Richard is now a sailor who has been involved in a good deal of action following his departure from this area with a wife, Mary, now deceased. Exiled after a family row over his choice of partner, Richard remains bitter towards a comparatively wealthy father who cast him out, and he has no wish to see his family after a twenty five year estrangement. The family is mentioned by Staple as he points out that Marion Garth, the daughter of the house, is an excellent and hard working farmer in her own right, though her father still firmly holds the purse strings. Other members for the household include the determined Land Girl Elizabeth and the youngest son Malcolm, as well as the returned son Charles. When a murder occurs on the day of a shoot, the local police are overstretched by wartime regulation enforcement, and investigating officer Layng is blocked by the locals’ stubborn relative silence. It is only when Chief Inspector Macdonald arrives and immerses himself in the land and the farming community that the disturbing truth begins to emerge. 


I found this book to be a beautifully written portrait of the realities of farming life at a tense time.The pressure to derive the maximum harvest from the land is given in detail with the varied produce and jobs always to be done. The portrait of Marion is extremely well drawn, as she strives to assert herself against her father’s successful but overly careful rule. As the landscape is celebrated in loving detail, the characters within it are so well drawn with their local dialogue and habits that it reveals the authors extensive local knowledge. I genuinely enjoyed every part of this lyrical and beautifully written mystery, and hope that there are many more novels from this author to be made available.      


As I rush through my collection of British Library books , my problem comes with storage – while my shelves attract a lot of attention with the colours and generally great production, they are in danger of pushing everything else out of the 1930s  bookcase! When I finally sort them out, I can see a picture will be required… (and it is a lovely problem to have!)

Murder in the Mill – Race by E.C.R. Lorac – a British Library Crime Classic set in Devon

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This Devon mystery is one of the recent productions of the excellent British Library Crime Classics series. A death in a small insular village on the edge of the moors becomes a significant cause of concern among the community for two reasons; the suggestion that it was not an accident as first supposed, and the identity of the deceased. A conspiracy of silence surrounds the death among the villagers, which proves difficult to penetrate for anyone who wants to investigate the situation. This is extremely well drawn, and speaks well for the author’s ability to create an enclosed world of secrets, where each person in the village engages in the silence. The unspoken law “Never make trouble in the village”  makes trouble for the first investigating police officer, Sergeant Peel, who feels there is more to this death than first appears. Moreover, the body is that of a Sister Monica, a singular woman who has been running a small children’s home on the outskirts of the village. She has been labelled a saint by the villagers at the time of her death, who ran the home with a rod of iron, training young women as servants and doing good works locally. When a new doctor, Raymond Ferens, arrives with his wife Anne a change is set in motion. Chief Inspector Macdonald’s arrival with his sidekick Reeves shakes up the entire situation, as they too begin to believe that there is more to Sister Monica’s death than first appears. Given the silence that prevails in Milham in the Moor, can anyone solve the matter of the murder in the pond of the local mill? As always, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent book in the series.


The book opens with the new doctor and wife sizing up the community in which he has agreed to work. Lorac creates an enclosed community skillfully in which the feelings of people about the deceased are carefully shown as questions are answered. The inhabitants of the village are quick to assure everyone of the excellence of Sister Monica despite or because of her assumption of  semi religious dress, and when she is found dead there are many proffered explanations for an accident. The atmosphere of the village is superbly written, and there is a subtle humour in the dialogue, especially between Macdonald and Reeves. Their experience and methods are cunning and well thought through, a sign of great skill in the construction of the novel. Martin Edwards’ informative introduction not only sets the scene of the novel well, but also fills in the details of Lorac’s real identity and impressive career as a successful writer of crime novels. 


This golden age of detective fiction classic deserves a wide audience for its creation of a functioning closed community with memorable characters and clever plot. As often the case, women are perhaps not the prime movers in the detection, but at least in this novel they are undoubtedly three dimension and interesting. I recommend this novel as a well paced and satisfying murder mystery which catches the essence of post war Britain well, and is enjoyable with flashes of real humour.  


One of the advantages of finishing my M.A.studies is more time for reading and reviewing a wider range of books. I admit to having got a little behind with this wonderful series of books, but I am hopeful of catching up very soon. Maybe a review a day will be quite an achievement – sorry if I am filling up your in box!  

Murder by Matchlight by E.C.R Lorac – A complex Crime Classic from the British Library

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A murder after dark in a park. A complex investigation of some colourful characters. A bombing in London as part of the blitz. Witnesses with an interest in the case. There is so much to admire in this book, a classic murder mystery of the Golden Age of Detection. A murder seemingly carried out in seemingly impossible circumstances as this one is represents some clever planning, in execution as well as working out the plot. This is not only a murder mystery; its original publication date in 1945 means that is set squarely in the Second World War and there are moral questions which that conflict raises. The recent reprinting by British Library Crime Classics is an excellent opportunity to revisit the writing of this author with a lower profile than her contemporaries such as Sayers or Christie, but who had an excellent grasp of even minor characters and their role in a novel. Martin Edwards, in his excellent Introduction, calls it a “crisp story, concisely told” which he hopes will increase the number of her admirers, of which I am one. I was very pleased to receive a copy to review.

Bruce Mallaig is wandering in Regent’s Park in the dark, pondering how his female friend Pat, who has been unable to meet him, would be a good choice to marry. The wartime conditions are immediately introduced as the railings are gone, and the black out makes the darkness total. Another man arrives, lights a match and reveals for a brief second a horrid face behind him. Bruce starts forward when he sees an apparent attack, and tries to capture someone jumping over a bridge. When a body is found it seems that an impossible murder has been committed. As Chief Inspector Macdonald begins to investigate, one of the major problems of this case emerges; no one knows for certain who the victim really, partly as a result of the wartime confusion. While identity cards and other indications are found, it seems unlikely that they show the true identity of  the man killed so efficiently, and it proves difficult to identify a killer when any possible motive is therefore obscure. The victim frequented a house with many theatrical lodgers, all with their own stories, and all with their own views of the workshy man. When even the seemingly uninvolved appear to have a motive Macdonald is left somewhat bewildered, but continues his methodical yet inspired investigations. Supported by the sterling but determined efforts of other police officers, he tries to discover who is likely to be guilty against a background of bombs and destruction. I particularly enjoyed his conversations with the redoubtable Mrs.Maloney, housekeeper and philosopher as they rally round to life after revelations and danger.

Lorac is immensely capable as she manages to hold all the strands of this story together, and deals with all the characters who have a possible involvement. She obviously enjoys writing some of them, as a clever performer reveals much, an embattled London is described, and even the method of murder seems to become more obscure. The question of why a single murder in the face of so many civilian deaths warrants so much careful investigation is very reasonably raised, eliciting the answer that without justice for the dead there is no hope for civilization. This is a mature, complex and deeply satisfying murder mystery with so much more; a vivid picture of a city at war, and an examination of why one death matters.


Meanwhile life at the Vicarage following my essay crisis (spoiler – I handed it in on time – just) and leading a Study Day continues with me making a determined effort to hit my huge pile of books that need to be read for review. Some are for definite dates, others just as soon as possible, others I have found that I just want to read. As other distractions have lessened for a while, it’s full steam ahead….

Fire in the Thatch by E.C.R. Lorac – a British Library Crime Classic featuring country life

Sometimes with a murder mystery the location is central to the story; it gives depth and sometimes even clues to the central questions. This book is subtitled “A Devon Mystery”, and the setting in the West Country becomes more important throughout the book, as country ways, the contrast with London attitudes and even the geography of the countryside becomes relevant to the investigation by Lorac’s detective, Inspector Macdonald. This latest book in the highly successful British Library Crime Classic reprint series fulfils all the promise of Lorac’s other novel in the set, “Bats in the Belfrey”. It is a clever novel if only because for much of the time it is not always certain that there is a crime, and certainly the solving of it is far from straightforward.

The novel opens with a tense problem for some of the characters, as Colonel St Cyres tries to avoid his daughter in law, June. She is living with him and his daughter Anne for the duration of the war, in which time this book is set. His son, Denis, is a prisoner of war, and June is an unwilling guest with her small son in order to save money despite her regret at missing life in the society of London. She is hoping that one of her friends, Tom Gressingham, will be able to rent an adjoining cottage and land, but her father in law has other ideas. He has heard of a naval officer invalided out of the service, Nicholas Vaughan, in search of a cottage and the opportunity to farm a small amount of land. When the Colonel meets Vaughan he is most impressed by his sensible plans and determination to transform the long neglected cottage, a project he soon embarks on. Vaughan is a man who appreciates solitude, despite Gressingham, his friends, Brendon and Radcliffe, and June all criticising his lack of involvement. The death of Vaughan, though trailed on the back of the book, took me by surprise, as it is introduced in a clever and novel way, when Wilton, his fellow officer seeks a clarification of what happened. Macdonald arrives in Devon and meets the extremely competent Bolton and together they establish the confusing facts of the case.

This novel depends greatly on the local inhabitants who are slow to welcome newcomers, but are impressed by Vaughan’s industry and commitment to the land. In contrast the Londoners are brash and convinced that their money will buy everything. The evacuee, Alf, is a standout character with his intelligent interest in cars and keenness to help.  Anne, the Colonel’s daughter, is a quiet but eloquent witness who enables the investigation to proceed out of her regard for Vaughan. These and other characters helped to maintain my considerable interest in this novel. This is a confident, well written book in which small details are investigated to great effect, and the setting is carefully explored as the truth is exposed gradually and carefully. Later events are shocking, but well within the reasonable range of the mystery. It is a cleverly constructed novel, not only in terms of guilt but in how the situation developed where murder is likely. The introduction by Martin Edwards explains who Lorac was and how prolific she was in the writing of detection novels.  I do hope that more of her novels are reprinted as they are well written and most enjoyable.

I am so glad that I was able to track down a copy of this book; it was a really good read over a short period of time as I enjoyed it so much. Roll on the next Crime Classic!

Bats in the Belfrey – A London Mystery by E.C.R Lorac – A standout crime Classic

Bats in the Belfry

This latest novel in the British Library Crime Classic series is a fast paced, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable novel. The plot keeps moving, the characters feel like real people, and the investigating detective combines methodical reaction to the crimes with intuitive problem solving. The London setting of 1937 combines the best of the atmospheric pre blitz buildings and surprising settings with a tight radius of possible activity. The characters involved soon become established and represent a genuine range of people and indeed potential suspects and victims. No minor character is without purpose and relevance; as even less senior police officers contribute their best, and Lorac skilfully moves the focus from one character to another while maintaining the onward momentum of events.

The book openings with a gathering of friends and associates at the home of Bruce Attleton, formerly a successful author but now dependant on his wife Sybilla, an immensely popular actress. They have become distanced from each other as financial arrangements and extra marital concerns have intervened. The occasion is the funeral of Bruce’s second relation to die suddenly in recent months, but there is a lack of genuine feeling for the deceased. Bruce’s ward, Elizabeth, recounts a macabre game that she is playing with her women’s club. As the group disperses, her would be suitor receives an invitation from an older acquaintance to investigate a mysterious caller. Granville, a dedicated young journalist, discovers a sinister building where artists have worked, but the decaying edifice suggests foul play has occurred, especially as Bruce’s effects are soon discovered. It soon emerges that alibis need to be checked and identities established as no one seems above suspicion. There is room for grim comedy when the emergency doctor suggests that every casualty is important to the police, as if the doctors have no concern for their patients unless especially requested. As Chief Inspector Macdonald tries unsuccessfully to cosh himself in imitation of an incident, the doctor regrets that no film company is available.

This is a book which draws the reader in and keeps a fascination right until the end. There is no wasted time, events crowd in, and the characters jostle for attention. It flows well as the atmosphere lends credence to the events, and the threatening sinister studio almost develops into a character in its own right.  It is so engaging that it cannot be ignored, as each twist and turn succeeds another, and there is no obvious, indisputable suspect. It may be responsible for sleep deprivation accordingly! Apparently Lorac, otherwise Edith Rivett, left some seventy novels at her death in 1958, and in this volume she shows her consummate skill in both plotting and characterisation. I hope that the British Library have more of her books in their list, as this is a standout novel in their crime reprints series.

There has been a scarcity of posts over the last week as I have been visiting friends near Cambridge and Bury St Edmunds. Needless to say, I fitted in some bookshops! I bought this book and read it by Friday, so you can see just how good I thought it was… I hope to get a few more posts written soon as soon as possible as I have tracked down some really interesting crime novels from the superb selection in Heffers, Cambridge, as well as actually reading some Dean Street Press gems. Watch this space for more! We also fitted in a moving visit to the American War Cemetery, of which I hope to add a link to Northern Vicar’s blog when he writes it. As our M.A. course effectively restarts tomorrow, time may become limited. Ho hum!