E.C.R. Lorac was not one of the Golden Age's most famous Crime Queens, but she was, perhaps, a Crime Princess. Not quite Christie, Sayers, or Allingham, but a very good writer of detective fiction nonetheless. My parents enjoyed her books in the Fifties, and I used to buy old copies for them when I came across them in catalogues or shops. Having eventually inherited the books, I'm now working my way through them. Fellow Lorac fan Geoffrey McSkimming told me that Murder by Matchlight is one of his favourites, and it's my Forgotten Book for today.
The first thing to say is that Geoffrey is a good judge. This short and snappy novel is a very good read indeed. A well-structured detective story in its own right, it also gains immeasurably from its wonderful presentation of life in wartime London during the blackout. Lorac wasn't the only crime writer to make good use of the blackout as a setting for murder, but I doubt it was often better done, and better integrated into the plot, than here. (So do let me know if you have any favourite rival candidates.)
A young analytical chemist is at a loose end one evening after his girlfriend is unavoidably detained elsewhere. He wanders into Regent's Park, and when someone strikes a match to light up the darkness for a moment, in the matchlight he sees a man with an unusual face. He also hears a thud - and guess what? Someone turns out to have been murdered.
Lorac's regular cop, the amiable but persistent Macdonald, leads the investigation, and finds that the deceased was himself a man of mystery, masquerading under an assumed name. A varied cast of suspects includes a conjuror called Rameses, who lived in the same building as the dead man; fellowtenants also come under Macdonald's microscope. Suspicion shifts around from nne person to another until a satisfying solution is put together. A good mystery.
Thanks for the review Martin. This is the first and only Lorac title I've read, and I found the investigation narrative succinct and engaging, but the solution at the end somewhat prosaic. But the blackout background was certainly well-integrated into the story.
Thanks, Jonathan. I tend to agree about the solution, and that's why I'd say the book falls short of the very highest level. But otherwise, yes, really good.
Already ordered this, Martin! Sounds right up my street.
I shall be interested to learn what you make of Lorac, Christine. My parents were very keen, and after some wavering, I've come to share their enthusiasm.
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