Monday, May 17, 2021

Checkmate to Murder: E.C.R. Lorac

This book was published in 1944, and is set in London during World War II. The story starts out with five people in a large studio which adjoins a house in a neighborhood in London. The four men in the main room are busy. Two men are focused on a game of chess; Bruce Manaton is working on a painting; the fourth man, AndrĂ© Dulaunier, is posing for the painting. Rosanne Manaton, Bruce's sister, is in the kitchen cooking their dinner and occasionally looks into the studio to see what they are doing. Later, after dark, Rosanne goes out to check the blackout precautions for the studio, to make sure that they will not be fined.  

After the group sits down to dinner, a Special Warden comes to the door with a young soldier. He accuses the soldier of killing the next door neighbor, demands that they hold on to him until the real police come to pick him up, and goes off to make the call to the police. The young soldier turns out to be the nephew of the dead man, Albert Folliner. That is a complicated opening but it does introduce most of the major players in the story.


After reading about half the story I would have described this as a standard police procedural, with no really outstanding characters, but still I was enjoying the story. The characters and their relationships are interesting, but it does take a while to establish the connections.  

Then, as the investigation gets underway, some characters get fleshed out and more background is added to the story. The head investigator, Chief Inspector Macdonald, is clever and doesn't jump to conclusions; he begins several lines of investigation, including directing Detective Reeves to investigate the previous tenants of the studio, who have since disappeared. Detective Reeves is a very likable character, determined and innovative in his techniques.

Some of the smaller roles were the most appealing. Detective Reeves seeks information from a neighbor, Mrs. Stanton, whose yard has been used as a shortcut to get to the house behind her where the dead man lived. Initially she is somewhat hostile and overbearing, but he compliments her on her garden and she eventually shows him her Christmas roses, or hellebores. Those types of interactions add to a story.

As the story moves along, it gets more and more complex and only comes together at the end. The denouement was unexpected and satisfying. 

A big plus for me was the World War II setting, which is used to good effect here. Blackout regulations are imposed, and Air Raid Wardens monitor the neighborhood. Those in this neighborhood are not well off, suffering more than usual due to the war, the shortages, and the lack of work. People feel like their lives are on hold until the war is over. The police are still doing their jobs, but some wish they were off fighting instead of at home.

E.C.R. Lorac was a pen name of Edith Caroline Rivett (1894-1958). She also wrote as Carol Carnac and was a prolific writer of crime fiction from the 1930s to the 1950s. She wrote several series, and this book was the 25th book in the Robert Macdonald series (of 46 books).


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Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press, 2021 (orig. pub. 1944)
Length:    214 pages
Format:    Trade paperback
Series:     Chief Inspector Macdonald #25
Setting:    London
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    Borrowed from my husband.


20 comments:

FictionFan said...

Lorac has been one of the major finds of the BL series for me, and I love her wartime ones most of all. She's so good at showing what life was like under the blackout and the shortages, and in this one I loved the way she used the fog to add to the eeriness and sense of danger.

Margot Kinberg said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this, Tracy. Sometimes, books do get off to a slow start, but they pick up as the story goes on, and I'm glad that happened for you here. Like FictionFan, I've been glad to get to know Lorac's work, so it's good to be reminded of it.

TracyK said...

FictionFan, I am glad you mentioned the fog. It was a very big element in the book and made the story feel almost spooky at times. I did not realize that so many of the ECR Lorac books had been published by the British Library. My husband has two more of her books, and I will seek out more after I read those.

TracyK said...

Margot, This one is a good example of why I don't give up on books easily. Although the book was holding my attention, even in the first half. It really picked up in the second half. A very good read.

Christine said...

I also enjoyed this one, Tracy. I particularly like WWII settings. Murder by Matchlight is also good.

Sam Sattler said...

This is a new author to me, but one I'll be looking closer at because I'm trying to sample a lot of mystery and suspense writing from the forties and fifties this year. It's a shame how much good writing is rapidly being forgotten about forever, and that makes me wonder which of the current writers will be read 75-100 years from now.

TracyK said...

Christine, my husband pointed this book out to me because of the WWII setting, then decided to buy it for himself. Lucky for me. He has read Murder by Matchlight (in the Dover edition) and recommended it to me. I will try that one soonish.

TracyK said...

Sam, that is a good question about which authors who are writing now will be read for many years to come.

Books written in the forties and fifties are especially interesting, to see if and how they reflect the political issues of the time and the war years... and postwar recovery.

Lark said...

Another British Library Crime Classic going on my list. I really like the sound of this one!

TracyK said...

Lark, this one is definitely worth reading. It has gotten lots of good reviews.

Peggy Arthurs said...

Definitely going to get this one!

TracyK said...

It is very good, Peggy. I am sure you will like it.

Mystica said...

An author I like, but find hard to track down.

TracyK said...

I agree, Mystica. I have looked for other books beyond the ones put out by the British Library, without much luck (within the amount I am willing to pay). But I will keep checking periodically.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I love the covers of these British mysteries by Poison Pen Press. I wonder how many books they've published.

TracyK said...

I agree, Diane, the covers are very nice. So appealing I want to buy some just for the covers. I also appreciate that the type is a good size for my old eyes. For many years I have bought old paperback editions of vintage mysteries, which sometimes are very appealing too. But they often have smaller print.

There are a lot of them, but I don't know how many. You would think it would be easy to find a count.

Katrina said...

I enjoyed this one too and know what you mean about the outcome. I've never found any of her original editions so I'll rely on them being reprinted eventually.

TracyK said...

I agree, Katrina, it seems very unlikely I will find old paperbacks of her books, and would not be able to afford hardcover editions. I do hope more will be reprinted, especially as her books get good reviews.

col2910 said...

Sounds very good. Maybe I'll keep an eye out for it.

TracyK said...

Col, I do think you would tend to like this book more than other vintage mysteries I have read. Glen has two more of them that I will try.