As a founder member of Mystery Women in 1997, promoting Crime Fiction has always been my passion.
Following the closure of Mystery Women, a new group was formed on 30th January 2012 promoting crime fiction.
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Published by The British
Library, 6 August 2019. ISBN 978-0-7123-5268-0 (PB)
story is set a few years after the end of the Second World War and starts when
Dr Raymond Ferens and his wife, Anne, move to the remote Devonshire village of
Milham in the Moor. Raymond survived captivity by the Japanese in the war, but
the experience effected his health and he has been advised to buy a country
practice, away from the dirt and demands of being a doctor in an industrial
city. Milham in the Moor seems perfect for their needs, especially when they contrive
to rent the ground floor of the beautiful Dower House from Lady Riding, the
avaricious lady of the manor.
Anne is a warm-hearted and friendly
young woman and, at first, she finds the village and its wonderful setting
delightful, but soon she discovers a darker and more malicious side to the
community. At the heart of this malice is Miss Monica Torrington, usually known
as Sister Monica, who for thirty years has run the children’s home, Gramarye.
Sister Monica is an exceptionally tall woman who insists on wearing ‘the
long dark cloak and veil which hospital nurses had worn as uniform in the early
nineteen hundreds.’ At their first meeting, despite her soft voice and
gracious manner, Anne notes that she smiles with her lips but it doesn’t reach
her eyes. Later, when Anne is invited to have tea with Sister Monica at the
orphanage, she is appalled by the Victorian-style iron discipline and is
convinced that the children are afraid. Raymond agrees that the orphanage is
run on rigid and old-fashioned lines, but the administration of the
establishment is nothing to do with him because his predecessor, old Dr Brown,
chose to retain care of the inhabitants of the orphanage, even though he sold
the rest of the practice.
Anne soon discovers that it is wise to
keep her opinion of Sister Monica to herself, as, in the village everyone seems
to share Sister Monica’s own view of herself as a wise, wonderful and deeply
spiritual woman. Another newcomer to the village warns Anne that Sister Monica
either likes you or actively does not, and it soon becomes clear that Sister
Monica does not like Anne. Sister Monica’s spite is hard to counter, as her
technique is to assure listeners that certain pieces of malicious gossip, which
she has started, are untrue, which gives the impression that they really are
true, but that Sister Monica is too noble and charitable to confirm them.
Sister Monica’s way of dealing with anybody she dislikes seems innocuous, but
it can drive people out of the village and destroy careers and relationships.
When the woman who most of the
villagers declare is a saint is found dead in the mill stream, Raymond notices
that, underneath the platitudes, many people are relieved by her death. It seems
that Sister Monica’s determination to know everything that goes on in the
village may not be due to simple curiosity but to use her knowledge to gain
power over people. The local police, who are not residents of Milham in the
Moor, find it impossible to overcome the villager’s reticence and call in
Scotland Yard. Detective Chief Inspector Macdonald and Detective Inspector
Reeves arrive in the village to investigate Sister Monica’s death and have to
contend with the tricks and manipulations of villagers determined to keep their
secrets and protect their own people. Despite this the detectives soon discover
dark truths in the dead woman’s past that provide motives for murder and may
endanger the innocent.
E.C.R. Lorac was a prolific writer of
the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s and most of her detective stories feature Macdonald as
he works his way up the ranks of Scotland Yard. Recently, several of Lorac’s
stories have been republished by the British Library and Murder in the
Mill-Race is an excellent example of her work. The descriptions of the
psychology of a community that will protect its own, and its vulnerability to
dominance by a disordered personality, is skilfully portrayed. Lorac is also
accomplished at describing various settings and the beauty of the scenery forms
an evocative contrast to the dark emotions that are seething in the secret
lives of the inhabitants. Lorac has a tendency to create mainly unlikeable
characters but, in Murder in the Mill-Race, Anne and Raymond are
appealing protagonists and Macdonald’s interaction with Reeves is also lively
and enjoyable. Murder in the Mill-Race is a fascinating novel and one
which I recommend.
Reviewer: Carol Westron
E.C.R. Loracwas 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 Westronis 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.