Friday, 31 March 2017

Forgotten Book - The Murder on the Burrows

My Forgotten Book for today is The Murder on the Burrows, which in 1931 launched the long and pretty successful career of E.C.R. Lorac. For a debut novel from the Golden Age, it stands up to present day scrutiny rather well, There are a few awkwardnesses about the writing, admittedly. For instance, I think she confuses the ranks of superintendent and sergeant. What's more, the chap who was to become her series cop, Inspector Macdonald (sometimes called Chief Inspector in the story) is given the first name James, although he became Robert in later books.

Overall, though, the story is a good one, and it gets off to a swift start when two men discover an apparently abandoned motor car on the Burrows at Bideford Bay. (This area was a favourite holiday spot for the author). The car proves to contain a dead body inside it, though it soon becomes apparent that the crime was committed elsewhere.

When Scotland Yard is called in, Macdonald focueses his inquiries in London. The dead man had a Russian name, but in reality he was an Englishman who had become a Communist. Lorac does  not dwell on the political aspects of the story, but the deceased is treated rather sympathetically. My impression is that her politics were, at least at this point in her life, left of centre, though I doubt she was one of those Golden Age writers who flirted with Marxism. But there's a liberal flavour to her work in the 30s.

Lorac was keen on music, and this is evident when a classical pianist enters the story. Macdonald is roughly in the Inspector French tradition of persistent, if likeable cop, though the fictional detectives who are name-checked are Poirot and Lynn Brock's Colonel Gore (who at that time was much better known than he is today). Macdonald needs to return to the Burrows to resolve matters, and all  in all the story is neatly constructed. If you could find a first edition of this rare novel in a dust jacket, it would be worth a great deal of money. Lorac has been a collectible writer for some time, and this is a rare title. But I'm glad I managed at least to track down a second hand reprint.

12 comments:

Puzzle Doctor said...

What a coincidence - just picked up three Lorac books on eBay for a bargain. Any opinions on The Sixth Stair, Speak Justly Of the Dead or Dishonour Among Thieves?

Jonathan O said...

Lorac (under both this and her other pseudonym Carol Carnac) is a favourite of mine; I think she's a strong candidate for a British Library reprint. Her works have that elusive quality of being re-readable.

Val said...

Many Thanks for an earlier recommendation of Michael Gilbert ..just read "The Night of the Twelfth" and really enjoyed it Thanks!

Clothes In Books said...

Confused police ranks: I read an American cozy set in England and was very amused because the author plainly thought Chief Constable meant something like 'the senior constable' or 'Desk Sergeant', he was a busybody active PC, and actually went out searching suspects' house. I've known a few CCs in my life, and it made me laugh to think of them doing what this one did.

Jonathan O said...

While on the subject of forgotten books, have you encountered the work of Hector Hawton? I recently picked up his "Murder by Mathematics", which is not at all bad and features a highly unusual motive.

Martin Edwards said...

Puzzle Doctor - I haven't read those, though I have a copy of Sixteenth Staie awaiting my attention - one of these days!

Martin Edwards said...

Val, glad you liked that. One of MG's best.

Martin Edwards said...

Hello Jonathan. I confess I've never heard of him. Can you tell me any more? I am intrigued by the unusual motive - I am very keen on those...

Jonathan O said...

All I know about Hawton is that he was the managing director of the Rationalist Press Association and also wrote stories with a science fiction element. He doesn't have his own Wikipedia entry (almost a definition of obscurity!) but there is a reference to this book in there. The title "Murder by Mathematics" is a bit misleading, as the method used is not at all mathematical, although most of the characters are academic mathematicians at a fictitious London-based university.

Martin Edwards said...

Interesting, Jonathan, thank you. You've made me want to read the book.

Juan Blanco said...

Hello Martin, I'm Juan from Argentina. I've been reading your blog for a while and I think you do an excellent job capturing the escence of the Golden Age. ECR Lorac is one of my favourites GA writers. It is translated to spanish due to Borges, who was a great admirer of her novels. Sadly, only a few books are translated, and the english versions are quite impossible to find. I've read "Checkmate to murder" and "Death before dinner", both really good puzzles. I still have in my shell "Death in triplicate" and "Murder in the Millrace". I also have (and haven't read yet) "Crossed skis" and "Murder as a fine art" by Carol Carnac. Chau!

Martin Edwards said...

Hello Juan. nice to hear from you. I didn't know that Borges was a fan of Lorac! I'm pleased to say that the British Library will reissue two of her books next year - Bats in the Belfry and Fire in the Thatch.