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Friday 5 April 2019

‘Murder by Matchlight’ by E.C.R Lorac

Published by The British Library,
10 November 2018.
ISBN: 978-0-7123-5222-2 (PB)

The story plays out during the period of the blackout as the Nazi bombers fly over London in 1944. However, this is not a historical novel as this is the year the novel was written, and it was published the following year. All of which means that Lorac’s readers were all too familiar with hardship of those dark (both figuratively and literally – because of the enforced blackout) days. Lorac is the pen-name of Edith Caroline Rivett, one of the writers of the Golden Age and in many ways, this novel is typical of that period – a whodunit mystery although this is a police procedural not about some clever private investigator outdoing the bumbling, inept police. 

A man is murdered as he stands on a bridge in Regent’s Park, the face of his assassin momentarily caught in the flare of a struck match. In charge of the investigation is Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald, ably assisted by the equally fair-minded Detective Inspector Reeves.

There is no shortage of suspects from the two witnesses to the crime, the doctor who suddenly arrives on the scene and the fellow occupants of the victim’s boarding house although the evidence appears to be mounting up against Mr Rameses, a stage illusionist who has rooms on the first floor of the boarding house.

I enjoyed this book immensely - a satisfying feel-good mystery with a large slice of humour. The twists and turns of the puzzle plot so beloved of the Golden Age writers kept me entertained but it was the delightful characters, all admittedly larger than life, that made me want to read on. Chief Inspector Macdonald proves to be an eminently sensible individual, intelligent and well-educated, who refuses to jump to easy assumptions – in short, everything we like to think the good policeman should be. I was intrigued by Rameses and his diligent practice to maintain his stage act. Like Macdonald, he is a man who observes first and comments after. The two work well together. I shall read more by this author just to find out if the two men join forces on a case in the future. Perhaps my favourite character is the boarding house caretaker, Mrs Maloney who always brings a smile to my lips when she appears.

This is the first novel I’ve read by this author. I must confess that I had never previously heard of the writer before and it was a surprise to discover that Edith Caroline Rivett had published 48 mysteries under the pen-name of E C R Lorac plus a further 23 novels as Carol Carnac.

This is a novel of its time but if you enjoy the gentle whodunits of the Golden Age, ‘Murder by Matchlight’ will not disappoint.
Reviewer: Judith Cranswick

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.

Judith Cranswick was born and brought up in Norwich. She wrote her first novel (now languishing in the back of a drawer somewhere) when her two children were toddlers, but there was little time for writing when she returned to work teaching Geography in a large comprehensive. It was only after leaving her headship that she was able to take up writing again in earnest. Judith teaches Tai Chi, and line dancing, yoga, Pilates and Zumba. Her other hobbies include reading and travelling. She is lucky enough to be a cruise lecturer. You can read some of her adventures – the Ups and Downs of Being a Cruise Lecturer on her September 2014 blog on her home page.

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