Monday, 22 January 2018

Bats in the Belfry


Image result for "e c r lorac" "bats in the belfry"

I'm excited about this year's programme for the Crime Classics series published by the British Library. The mix of titles that will appear this year is extremely varied. There should be something, I hope, for everyone who enjoys classic crime. My belief is that variety in a series such as this is essential, just as it is in an anthology. Yes, it means that not everyone will enjoy every story equally. But overall, that scarcely matters, because it also means that readers have the chance to sample writers and styles of writing that are unfamiliar to them, which has to be a good thing. And one of several exciting developments is that 2018 will see the reappearance in mass market paperback of two novels by E.C.R. Lorac.

I was first told about Lorac by my parents, when I was young. Both of them liked the books in particular because some of them were set in a part of the country, north west England, which they knew very well. My Dad was a real fan, although I'm not sure he ever cottoned on to the fact that the Lorac pen-name concealed the identity of a woman, Edith Caroline Rivett. But the books were out of print, something my Mum and Dad mourned. So when I started working, and haunting second hand bookshops, I snapped up every Lorac title that I could find, and presented it to my parents. (I did the same with quite a few other authors they liked; I'll say more about those books, some other time.) After their deaths, the books came back to me, and I've slowly been working my way through them, as well as adding some more titles to the collection.

One of the additions I made a couple of years ago was Bats in the Belfry, which is set in central London. I happened to be on holiday in, of all places, the Atacama Desert, when I checked a favourite dealer's site (as you do) and discovered that an inscribed copy was for sale. I nabbed it while still in Chile, on the assumption that I'd never get another chance, even though the book lacked a jacket. And when I read the book, I was delighted, not just by the inscription (to Lorac's mother) but by the story, which struck me as entertaining and atmospheric. Yes, I did guess whodunit, but I felt that the plot overall was pleasing enough for this not to be a problem.

Even before I bought that book, I'd been keen for the British Library to bring Lorac's books back into the public eye. But it proved very difficult to trace the rights holders. Finally, thanks to the sterling efforts of Rob Davies's department at the Library, the deed was done, and now Lorac is back in print. Bats in the Belfry was published last week, and another title, Fire in the Thatch, will come out before too long. I'm really pleased about this, and I hope that if you sample Lorac for yourself, you'll find her work enjoyable too.




17 comments:

Jonathan O said...

I've just finished reading this, and it's pretty good - I'd rate it slightly above "Black Beadle", which I also read for the first time recently. I first encountered her work over thirty years ago when I picked up a copy of "Still Waters" in a local market. Fingers crossed that the British Library will republish some more of hers (after "Fire in the Thatch" - I'm still debating whether to buy a copy to replace my rather battered old Crime Club paperback.)

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Martin, thanks for spotlighting E.C.R. Lorac (or Edith Caroline Rivett) and her work. I hadn't heard of the author until now. One of the reasons I like reading anthologies, especially of short stories, is for the "variety" and to discover new writers.

Martin Edwards said...

Jonathan, thanks. I'd like to think the BL will publish more Loracs in future, though nothing is settled yet. I agree this one is better than Black Beadle, though that too is a decent story.

Martin Edwards said...

Prashant, I think you are spot on. Anthologies are a great way of introducing readers to new writers and their work.

Noreen said...

Fascinating post

Christine said...

You won't be surprised to hear, Martin, that the London Library has a decent collection of her novels and I have worked my way through the lot!

Xavier said...

Lorac was very popular with French publishers, particularly Le Masque, in the decades following WW2. I've read a couple of hers and I enjoyed them though more for the settings and characters than the plots - as you say, guessing whodunit is no hindrance to enjoying her books.

Jamie Sherwin said...

Hi Martin, Haven't read this yet but will when I get a spare 5 minutes. Have you ever thought about doing an anthology, or anthologies, of previously uncollected GA short stories? Aren't there a couple of uncollected Henry Wade short stories? Hope to meet you at Bodies At The Library in June.

Martin Edwards said...

Christine, I'd be interested to know which are your favourites.

Martin Edwards said...

Xavier, thanks, I didn't know she was so popular in France.

Martin Edwards said...

Hello, James, nice to hear from you. The only uncollected Wade I know of is now included in The Long Arm of the Law. I'm always wondering about possible anthologies, and will keep your idea in mind. See you at Bodies. It's always a very hectic day for me, so don't be shy, do come up and say hello.

Jonathan said...

Thanks for the post Martin, and I'm glad that there will be at least one more Lorac coming out under the BL imprint. Which of Lorac's works would you say are her best mystery novels?

Martin Edwards said...

Tricky one to answer, because her standard was fairly even. I do like Bats in the Belfry. Murder by Matchlight is also excellent. And so is Still Waters.

Jamie Sherwin said...

Hi Martin, Sorry I meant Freeman Wills Croft's uncollected short stories, can't think why I typed Henry Wade. Have you given any more consideration to the two Nigel Orde Powlett novels I suggested for inclusion in the British Library series? DLS seemed to like them. Also have you thought about doing a blog post or posts on the subject of unfinished, unpublished and lost GA works (novels, short stories and plays etc)? The idea came to me after reading about Wimsey's lost cases in the latest edition of CADS as well as about FWC's lost short story, "Nemesis" on his Wikipedia page.

See you at Bodies, you won't be able to miss me - I'll be the one in the wheelchair.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Jamie. I haven't laid hands on N O P's books as yet. There's quite a backlog of titles awaiting for consideration, so nothing would happen in any case for quite some time, but you never know. The idea of unfinished and lost works is extremely interesting, I must say. The most fascinating example I can think of off-hand is C S Forester's The Pursued.

Jonathan O said...

The trouble with recommending titles by Lorac/Carnac is that you may well be unable to get hold of them. Allowing for that, I'd suggest The Theft of the Iron Dogs (one of the ones set in the northwest, an area she obviously knew and loved) and the Carnac title The Striped Suitcase (for the atmosphere of postwar London and a sort of sub-Fitzrovia).

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Jonathan. I know that my parents enjoyed The Theft of the Iron Dogs too.