Friday, 3 February 2017

Forgotten Book - The Sixteenth Stair

E.C.R. Lorac published The Sixteenth Stair in 1942. As usual, it features her low-key but appealing cop, Inspector Macdonald, and as so often in books written during the first part of her career, it is set in central London. A family called the Hazelys are at the heart of the action, along with a house in St John's Wood called the Villa Eugenie, which has an intriguing history..

Timothy Hazely, an American member of the family, comes to London and is tempted by the stories he's heard to take a look at the Villa Eugenie, which has been left unoccupied for many years, but his visit takes an unexpected turn when at the foot of the stairs, he discovers the body of a man with his neck broken. It turns out that the victim is a member of the family.

The house may not have been lived in for a long time, but it hasn't been entirely deserted. Macdonald and his team soon find out that it has been used as a rendezvous for an illicit love affair. A doctor has become involved with one of his patients, and one possibility is that he may be the culprit. Another is that he may have been framed by his lover's husband.

The Hazelys are a complex family in more ways than one, and I would have found a family tree helpful to enable me to keep in mind all the different family members. One reason why Lorac may not have supplied a tree is that it would have spoiled one of her surprises, but I still think it would have been worthwhile. It's an interesting and fairly distinctive story, and although I prefer some of Lorac's other books, such as Murder by Matchlight and Bats in the Belfry, it is a decent, and at times atmospheric read..

6 comments:

Ron Smyth said...

I read this one last July but I was not overly impressed.

Spoiler Alert

The motive of mere greed seemed somewhat unlikely for a rather elderly man who had not really shown any particular tendency towards such, and for such a meticulous and long term planner not to have made sure that the rewards of his crime even exist is remarkably unlikely.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Ron

Jonathan O said...

I re-read this a few days ago, and although the denouement is not the most credible even in Golden Age terms (question: how important is credibility in GA fiction?), I still enjoyed it. I don't think it's her best work, though.

Mild spoiler alert

However, I would have liked some tying up of the loose ends - in particular, what happened to the doctor? Did his relationship come out, and was he struck off as a result?

Jonathan Maxfield said...

Hi Martin - I have only read a few of Lorac's books and found a later book Ask a Policeman to be an enjoyable read. I have started to have a look for some of her earlier books e.g. Bats in Belfry but they are incredibly difficult and expensive to buy. Is there any chance that some of these books could be re-issued as part of the British Library Crime Classics series?

Martin Edwards said...

Jonathan O - good question!

Martin Edwards said...

Jonathan M - I am working on this. I would love to see Bats in the Belfry reprinted. Time will tell....