Friday 28 August 2020

Forgotten Book - These Names Make Clues

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Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to lay my hands on an inscribed copy of E.C.R. Lorac's These Names Make Clues, an uncommon Collins Crime Club title from 1937; no dust jacket (the one in pictured is an image from Mark Terry's fascinating site of facsimile wrappers), but still a treasured possession. All the more so because the story is an enjoyable one. In fact I'd rate this as one of the more interesting Loracs.

A key reason for my enthusiasm is that this book is more in the realm of the classic "closed circle" puzzle mystery than some of the author's other work. Inspector Macdonald is invited to a Treasure Hunt evening convened by a publisher called Graham Coombe, who shares a big house in London with his sister Susan. His fellow guests are mystery writers, but part of the fun is for their identities to be concealed under pseudonyms.

The seasoned crime fan won't be surprised to learn that this pleasant idea backfires when a death takes place during the treasure hunt. The deceased was an author called Andrew Gardien, and the suspects are the Coombes and the novelists. Complications ensue when Gardien's literary agent is also found dead. Were either of the deaths murder? Macdonald investigates, abetted by a breezy young journalist called Vernon.

What fascinates me particularly about this novel, published in the year that Lorac was elected to membership of the Detection Club, is that there are strong reasons to infer that her initial experience of the Club supplied the inspiration for the story and some of the characters. Coombe may be Billy Collins, but I'm fairly sure that Gardien was inspired (albeit not in terms of his personality) by John Rhode.

I also suspect that Rhode influenced (maybe even suggested to her; he was a generous man) Lorac's choice of m.o. in relation to the two deaths. Other characters seem to me to bear traces of Douglas and Margaret Cole, and Baroness Orczy. As for the plot, it boasts variety and ingenious touches aplenty, though to my mind it's not really a "fair play" whodunit, given that a key fact is revealed rather late on. Definitely a book that deserves better than the obscurity which has been its fate since the 1930s.


Jamie Sturgeon said...

I gave up on this one. If I remember correctly the characters are first introduced under the names of historical characters they are playing in the treasure hunt before the reader learns their real names- I couldn’t always keep up with who was who after that.

Jonathan O said...

Although I own quite a lot of her books, this is one I've not seen - any chance of a British Library reprint, do you think?

Martin Edwards said...

Jamie, yes, it certainly has that dimension of complexity!

Martin Edwards said...

Jonathan, I'd like to think so, though ultimately the decision rests with the BL.

Gilbert Chin said...

I'm part way through reading the BL edition and came across a mention of Miss Rees being referred to as Mr. Rees by reviewers of her books. This reminded me of the summary in my copy of The Case of Colonel Marchand (1933 Macaulay) that refers to Mr. E.C.R. Lorac having provided a brilliantly written and absorbing mystery. So I'll be reading onward imagining the author in the character of Miss Rees, perhaps an autobiographical portrayal similar to what you described in your introduction to Crossed Skis.

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, Gilbert. Dorothy L Sayers was another who referred to Lorac as male. I think Lorac's response was amusement.