Accident by Design
by E.C.R. LoracGenres: Crime, Mystery
Templedean Place in the Cotswold Hills of England was among the last of the truly aristocratic estates, where old family traditions still ﬂourished. When Gerald Vanstead arrived from Australia with his family, to attend his father in his last illness, other, more deadly things flourished.
Gerald's wife was the bickering kind; he drank too much, was given to feuding with the chauffeur, and seemed excessively tightlipped and disagreeable—and so no one was particularly sorry when one day the brakes on Gerald's car failed to hold, and he and his wife were killed.
A family picnic ended in the accidental death of another Vanstead, a fire destroyed what might have been a clue, and there was a night of horrible suspense before Inspector Macdonald could say who hated Gerald Vanstead the most and who, in a house of cultured, well-bred men and women, was most capable of murder.
I’ve said for a while that E.C.R. Lorac is one of my favourite authors from this period, and that’s in part because she can sketch in a place and a cast that one can care about, often full of decent people trying to do their best, and driven by her humane and careful detective, Macdonald.
Accident by Design is another case of that, but it subverted my expectations somewhat in the way the characters were set up, proving that Lorac was careful not to get too formulaic. It would be easy to slip into looking for a certain character type, and to feel sure that they are guilty, but Lorac doesn’t make it so easy.
In the end, it isn’t one of my favourite stories by Lorac (I think that still goes to Death of an Author, which isn’t even a Macdonald book, and is rather clever instead of being atmospheric), but it’s a solid example of her work. Perhaps best enjoyed once you’re used to her tendencies, so you get the surprise I did…
I continue to think Lorac’s one of the best of her generation of mystery writers — and that’s despite a fairly prolific output.