Published just six months after her previous book Murder In St. John’s Wood, this is the sixth mystery to feature Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald of Scotland Yard by Edith Caroline Rivett under her ‘E. C. R. Lorac’ pseudonym. Once again eschewing the atmospheric coastal or rural setting which had been a feature of her early mysteries, as she did in the previous book, here the action takes place almost entirely in a fairly confined area of London which Lorac describes with her usual lucid style.
Here the mystery opens without preamble as Macdonald is summoned to a house shared by two young women when one of them is found gassed to death in her bedroom, door and windows closed tight. The victim, Veronica Baring, is a intellectual bibliophile and co-owner of a bookshop and lending library which specialises in rare manuscripts. Whilst first appearances might suggest suicide it soon becomes clear to Macdonald, ably assisted by local man Inspector Bolton, that someone else had entered the room and turned on the gas, causing her death. Suspicion falls on Bridget Western, the owner of the house, who had decided to ask the dead woman to leave as their experiment in living together to save costs had not been a success. Also on Macdonald’s suspect list are the dead woman’s sister Lucia and her husband Lannerton, the former of whom immediately starts to hurl accusations around, specifically aimed at Bridget Western, and who also claims that a valuable partial manuscript of Bocaccio’s Decameron has gone missing from her sister’s rooms, suggesting its theft was a motive for murder. Macdonald discovers that Veronica and her sister were at loggerheads over the fact that their father left all his money to the former and also that Lannerton had failed at his attempt to run a rubber plantation, leaving both with a potential financial inducement for the crime. When he discovers that a man was seen leaving the house at 10.30 on the fateful night and then again in the street at 2.45 the following morning, he begins to survey the dead woman’s men friends, including her co-owner in the bookshop Colin Forestier, and soon discovers both Forestier and the victim were involved in the burgeoning Fascist movement which was gaining so much momentum at the time. They, along with numerous friends, including a couple called the Hughendens, have been plotting in secret to launch the political career of a man named Brian Kenley in the hope he will gain power.
When he discovers that the house where Veronica and Bridget Western both shared backs on to the Hughenden’s own property and that the owners are away, Macdonald investigates, only to receive a blow to the head which knocks him out. When the police enter the property later they discover that the house has been broken into and anti-fascist graffiti scrawled on the walls. Suspecting this to be a blind for some more material motive Macdonald soon discovers that the Hughendens have actually been the victims of burglary disguised as political animosity. Then Brian Kenly is discovered trussed and gagged in the Hughendens potting shed, claiming that he has been there since being attacked on the night that Veronica Baring was killed and Macdonald begins to develop a theory to explain what actually happened the fatal night.
Pursuant to his theory, Macdonald travels briefly to France to interview a Greek millionaire named Benoides, who he had been informed by Lucia Lannerton owns the remainder of the Decameron manuscript and had been desperate to own the part in Veronica’s possession. When Benoides declares that he had recently purchased the missing part from a woman who gave the name of one of his suspects and fitted that lady’s description Macdonald has the final piece of evidence he requires to solve his case.
Peter Vernon, journalist friend of Macdonald who previously appeared in Death On The Oxford Road as a makeshift assistant, makes a reappearance here, helping with his knowledge of the various political factions which affect the case and also providing a sounding board at the conclusion so Macdonald can expound his conclusions. There is also a brief appearance by Inspector Reeves, who up to this point in the series is mentioned occasionally but doesn’t play an essential role.
Overall this is another skilfully constructed mystery, with an unexpected murderer (at least to this reviewer) revealed at the denouement. Whilst it lacks the wonderful local detail of the previous book Death In St John’s Wood this is still worth tracking down for anyone wanting to read more by this Golden Age stalwart who is experiencing a well deserved renaissance.
Inspector Robert Macdonald #6
Preceded by Murder In St. John’s Wood
Succeeded by The Organ Speaks
No record of any modern reprint, ebook or audiobook has been traced by the reviewer.
First Edition Details
Originally published by Sampson Low, Marston & co ltd 1934
Black Cloth Boards pp 284, 8vo
Title and Author stamped in gold on spine. ‘Sampson Low’ stamped in gold at bottom.
Front cover plain with blind stamped box close to edges.
Publisher’s logo blind stamped in bottom right corner of rear cover.
Dustwrapper priced at 7/6 net on spine.
Originally published by The Macaulay Company, New York 1934
Cloth Boards pp 252, 8vo
Further details unknown.
R E Faust
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