Friday, 13 November 2015

Forgotten Book - Bats in the Belfry

I've mentioned E.C.R. Lorac occasionally on this blog -the first time was more than six years ago -, but I've never covered any of her books,and it's high time I put that right. My Forgotten Book for today is one of her more obscure titles, Bats in the Belfry, which dates from 1937, and features her series cop Inspector Macdonald. One thing it doesn't deserve is obscurity, because it's a consistently interesting and readable novel. I've never seen it reviewed elsewhere, which is unusual these days, even for forgotten books,,but I can certainly recommend it.

Be warned, though. It's not an easy book to find. I'd never seen a copy of this particular title until I came across a rare book dealer who was offering a unique example for sale. I was lucky enough to obtain it - complete with an author signature, and a really interesting inscription from Lorac to her mother. From this I learned that the novel was written in August 1936, while Lorac and her mother were holidaying at Westward Ho! Collins Crime Club published it the following January - very fast work.

The novel does not read as though it was written in haste, and my guess is that Lorac planned the story very carefully before sitting down to write it up. The first chapter introduces us to the key characters - Bruce Attleton and his attractive but selfish wife Sybilla, their friends Thomas Burroughs, Neil Rockingham and Richard Grenville, and Bruce's ward, Elizabeth. The occasion is the funeral of Attleton's cousin, who has been killed in a car accident.

We soon learn that Attleton is being plagued by a mysterious stranger called Debrette, but the nature of the connection between them is unclear. When both Attleton and Debrette go missing, Grenville tries to find out what is going on. The London setting is very well evoked, and the mystery proves satisfyingly complex. I figured out what was going on, but only because Lorac plays very fair with her clues. A very satisfying read.


Ted said...

Fortunately there was a US edition of this one and a worldcat search shows that about ten libraries in US have a copy ... so I might be able to get this through inter-library loan. I've been able to read 'Murder in the Maze','Excellent Intentions','No Walls of Jasper','The Ingenious Mr. Stone' and 'Henbane' this year thanks to inter-library loan. It's a lot cheaper than buying a copy!

Thanks, Martin, for posting these forgotten books! It's one of the things I look forward to every Friday.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Bats in the Belfry is very easy to find. You just have to be willing to spend between $300 to $500 to get it.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Hope we can look forward to a BL reprint Martin!

Anonymous said...

Somehow, Lorac became my summer reading obsession; I managed to obtain 17 books, each in the $20-50 range. (My obsession paused when the prices approached $100, but there were (still are?) plenty of titles available in the $100-150 range.) Fortunately, Ramble House has reprinted 4 of the Chief Inspector MacDonald stories: The Devil and the CID, Slippery Staircase, Black Beadle, and Case in the Clinic. Swallowtail Books, a short-lived publishing house, reprinted Death on the Oxford Road in 2000, and Dover reprinted Murder by Matchlight in 1988. As with any series, some stories seem to be better than others; for anyone approaching Lorac for the first time, I'd recommend Slippery Staircase and Murder by Matchlight.

Martin Edwards said...

Anon, that's very interesting and helpful. Thanks.

Christine said...

Once again the London Library comes up trumps. It has copies of ten of Lorac's novels, though not this one.