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Thursday 10 May 2018

‘Bats in the Belfry’ By E.C.R. Lorac

Published by The British Library Crime Classics,
0 January 2018.
ISBN: 978-0-7123-5255-0 (PB)

The book opens at the London house of Bruce Attleton and his wife Sybilla, where a small group of people have gathered after attending the funeral of Bruce’s young cousin, Anthony Fell, who died in a car accident after his brakes failed. Very few people attended the funeral because Fell had only arrived from Australia a few months ago and as Bruce explains, Fell and Bruce were the only surviving members of their family, apart from a very old relative who lives quietly on an annuity and is known to the despairing insurance company that issued the annuity as the Old Soldier, on the premise that ‘old soldiers never die.’

Bruce Attleton has a luxurious lifestyle, but this is insecure, his first two novels were smash hits that dazzled the literary scene but, since then, he has not had any success and the house and lifestyle is now maintained by his actress wife, Sybilla. However, Sybilla has a new, wealthy lover, who will do anything for her. Sybilla wishes to catch Bruce out in infidelity so that she can divorce him, although she does not want to be shamed by being declared the guilty party. Although he no longer cares for Sybilla, Bruce is determined to stay married and retain his comfortable lifestyle.

Also present at the gathering are Neil Rockingham, Bruce’s long-time friend; Thomas Borroughs, Sybilla’s new love interest; Elizabeth Grenville, Bruce’s ward and Robert Grenville, a journalist who is in love with Elizabeth and wishes to marry her, but Bruce has refused his consent. It is Elizabeth who says she requires their help for a competition at her club, the prize will go to the person who suggests the most inventive and practical method of getting rid of a corpse. Some very inventive methods of disposal are discussed.

Soon after, Rockingham asks for Grenville’s help. Bruce is in Paris and Rockingham intends to join him there, but he wishes Grenville to use his journalistic skills to track down a man called Debrette, who Rockingham believes is blackmailing Bruce. Grenville agrees to help, and his researches lead him to a disused and almost derelict artist’s studio. In the meantime, Bruce has vanished, and Grenville discovers Bruce’s suitcase in the studio. The discovery of a badly mutilated body brings the police into the investigation and Chief Inspector Macdonald of Scotland Yard takes on the case, determined to discover what connection Bruce Attleton has to the artist’s studio and whether he is the victim or the killer.

E.C.R. Lorac was a prolific writer during the Golden Age of detective fiction but her work has gone out of print. This is the second novel by Lorac republished by the British Library and hopefully they will publish many more. The plot is clever, with many twists but also several clues to help the reader work out the murderer. Macdonald is a splendid detective creation, hard-working, intelligent and possessing a sense of humour. This is a book that brings to life London in the 1930s and is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

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 lived her last years with her elder sister, Gladys Rivett (1891-1966), in Lonsdale, Lancashire. Edith Rivett died at the Caton Green Nursing Home, Caton-with-Littledale, near Lancaster. Her books have been almost entirely neglected since her death but deserve rediscovery as fine examples of classic British crime fiction in its golden age.
Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel,
The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

To read a review of Carol latest book Strangers and Angels click on the title.

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