Author: E.C.R. Lorac

Review – Murder in Vienna

Posted May 14, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Murder in Vienna

Murder in Vienna

by E.C.R. Lorac

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 194
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Superintendent Macdonald, C.I.D., studied his fellow-passengers on the Vienna plane simply because he couldn’t help it, because he hadn’t conditioned himself to being on holiday. The distinguished industrialist he recognised: the stout man he put down (quite mistakenly) as a traveller in whisky. The fair girl was going to a job (he was right there) and the aggressive young man in the camel coat might be something bookish. Macdonald turned away from his fellow-passengers deliberately; they weren’t his business, he was on holiday - or so he thought.

Against the background of beautiful Vienna, with its enchanting palaces and gardens, its disenchanted back-streets and derelicts of war, E. C. R. Lorac constructs another great detective story with all its complexities, an exciting and puzzling crime story.

I really love E.C.R. Lorac’s work, for a lot of reasons I’ve written about before, and it boils down to two gifts that she had. One, she was good at characters, and especially at creating likeable characters. Two, she has a great sense for place, and for showing how a place is lived in — I thought at one point she was mostly good at describing rural locations and small towns, but this book (and others set in London) show she just had a gift in general of making anywhere sound lovely in its way. In this case, post-WWII Vienna.

The other thing to bear in mind is that even a character you like a lot might turn out to be a murderer, and that someone who’s a bit of a slimeball needn’t be the one who killed someone. If you read only one or two of her books, it’s easy to think that she’ll always point the finger at a certain type of character, but it isn’t the case.

Murder in Vienna captures the unsettled feeling of a city uneasy with what some of its inhabitants have done. The collaborators walk free, and it’s unclear who collaborated because they felt that they had to and who collaborated willingly. That isn’t completely germane to this story, it’s just part of the feeling of everything. But Vienna itself is beautiful in Lorac’s words, and through the eyes of Macdonald, one of the most human of the detectives of classic fiction (in my view). I found it all really enjoyable, not so much the mystery itself, but how the mystery inhabited Vienna and the anxious minds of those trying to believe that the ordeal is over and normality has returned.

Poor Macdonald really should be allowed a proper holiday at some point, though. If he could please be returning from holiday at the start of a book or something, that’d be nice. No more busman’s holidays for him, please.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Impact of Evidence

Posted February 21, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Impact of Evidence

Impact of Evidence

by E.C.R. Lorac, Carol Carnac

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 221
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Near St Brynneys in the Welsh border country, isolated by heavy snow and flooding from the thaw, a calamity has occurred. Old Dr Robinson, a known 'menace o the roads', has met his end in a collision with a jeep at a hazardous junction. But when police arrive at the scene, a burning question hints at something murkier than mere accident: why was there a second body - a man not recognised any locals - in the back of Robinson's car?

As the local inspectors dive into the muddy waters of this strange crime, Chief Inspector Julian Rivers and Inspector Lancing are summoned from Scotland Yard to the windswept wilds, where danger and deceit lie in wait.

Puzzling and atmospheric, this exceedingly rare mystery from one of the masters of crime fiction's Golden Age returns to print for the first time since its publication in 1954.

It’s always exciting when the British Library Crime Classics series bring out another of E.C.R. Lorac’s books, especially the rare and out of print ones. I’m slightly less fond of Lorac’s work under the Carol Carnac pseudonym, perhaps because I’m not as fond of the detective — though Lorac’s McDonald doesn’t show us a lot of his personal life, he does show a constant decency and patience, and that impression has been cumulative through the books in which he’s featured. Lancing and Rivers don’t really compare (and don’t really stand out to me, either, though nor did McDonald at first).

In any case, Impact of Evidence is the latest, a book which is out of print and almost unattainable until now. The setup is intriguing: details are drawn from Lorac’s own experience of Lunesdale, but transplanted to the Welsh borders, and she depicts farm life with her usual care for what’s needed and how those communities worked. As usual, she’s idealised the working farmer a little here, with her usual “salt of the earth” rock-solid decent characters — but having read more of her work, one’s always aware of the tension there, and when those people might do wrong.

I admit I was onto what happened fairly early on just because of certain details that were drawn to the reader’s attention multiple times, but it was still interesting to see how it worked out, and how some things were subverted (like the Derings matter-of-fact behaviour about the accusations of them).

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Theft of the Iron Dogs

Posted November 21, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The Theft of the Iron Dogs

The Theft of the Iron Dogs

by E.C.R. Lorac

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 284
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

While hot on the heels of serial coupon-racketeer Gordon Ginner, Chief Inspector MacDonald of Scotland Yard receives word of an intriguing incident up in Lancashire – the summer cottage of local farmer Giles Hoggett has been broken into, with an assortment of seemingly random items missing which include a complete reel of salmon line, a large sack, and two iron dogs from his fireplace.

What first appears to Insp. MacDonald as a simple break-in quickly spirals into a mystery of contested land grabs for fishing between farmers, made all the more enticing to MacDonald when a body is then found in the river – the body of Gordon Ginner. It’s up to Insp. MacDonald, aided by the locals of Lunesdale, to determine who broke into Hoggett’s cottage, where his irons dogs have gone, and how Ginner met his watery end.

For my money, E.C.R. Lorac is one of the finest classic crime writers. She writes compelling mysteries with an amazing sense of place and setting, and characters who are enjoyable, if sometimes idealised. There’s a sense with her books that the mysteries arise out of place and personality, rather than coming up with a mystery and then inventing a setting to fit around it, which is probably true if Martin Edwards’ introductions about Lorac and her love for Lunesdale are true.

The Theft of the Iron Dogs returns to Lunesdale, in fact, and the mystery is only unravelled because the people of the area have habits, patterns and expectations which aren’t obvious to people from outside the area, meaning the cover-up of the crime isn’t as perfect as the perpetrator thinks. The story features Macdonald, of course, Lorac’s series detective, with his usual conscientiousness and care, and his sense of compassion for the people affected by his investigations.

It’s a slow one, country-paced, in a way that feels right for the place and the story. I really enjoyed this one, and though the crime itself is not terribly “cosy” (is any crime?), the overall feel is a pretty cosy, lower-stakes kind of story.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Accident by Design

Posted November 10, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Accident by Design

Accident by Design

by E.C.R. Lorac

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 199
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

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.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Post After Post-Mortem

Posted October 30, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Post After Post-Mortem

Post After Post-Mortem

by E.C.R. Lorac

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 300
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

The Surrays and their five children form a prolific writing machine, with scores of treatises, reviews and crime thrillers published under their family name. Following a rare convergence of the whole household at their Oxfordshire home, Ruth – middle sister who writes ‘books which are just books’ – decides to spend some weeks there recovering from the pressures of the writing life while the rest of the brood scatter to the winds again. Their next return is heralded by the tragic news that Ruth has taken her life after an evening at the Surrays’ hosting a set of publishers and writers, one of whom is named as Ruth’s literary executor in the will she left behind.

Despite some suspicions from the family, the verdict at the inquest is suicide – but when Ruth’s brother Richard receives a letter from the deceased which was delayed in the post, he enlists the help of CID Robert Macdonald to investigate what could only be an ingeniously planned murder.

I normally love E.C.R. Lorac’s books, and I think this was a very fine example of her work… without being one that I, strictly speaking, enjoyed. She has a way of describing characters and places that can make you love them and feel their goodness — and in this book, the nastiness of murder feels particularly prominent. It’s less “good people overcome” and more “good people are overcome”, and it just hit wrong for my current mood, despite being well handled.

Those who read it should be warned that the setup has the murder being taken to be suicide at first, and that the family react accordingly, with shock and horror and the sense that the world is upended. And that isn’t the end to their sorrows.

It’s a good thing that Lorac writes such a sensitive, humane detective in MacDonald, because his sympathy also helped to make this book as powerful as it is.

In the end, the solution was also a sad one, and the whole thing just left me with a sense of melancholy. Beautifully written, perhaps among Lorac’s best — but perhaps not one that I’ll visit again.

Rating: 4/5

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