Bats in the Belfry by ECR Lorac

Starring MacDonald of the Yard…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When Bruce Attleton doesn’t turn up in Paris as planned, his friend Neil Rockingham begins to worry. A strange man called Debrette had been harrassing Attleton, so Rockingham sets another friend, young Robert Grenville, the task of tracking Debrette down. Things take a sinister turn when Grenville finds Attleton’s suticase, complete with passport, in the cellar of the Belfry – an old building where Debrette had been living until very recently. Time to bring in Inspector MacDonald of the Yard…

This is an excellent early example of the police procedural novel, mixed with just enough amateur detection from young Grenville to make it fun and to keep the authentic Golden Age feel. Grenville plays a very minor second fiddle to the professional Inspector MacDonald though, and the police methods throughout have a feeling of authenticity that is rare in my experience of early crime fiction. MacDonald doesn’t work alone – he heads a team, all allocated with different tasks and responsibilities suited to their rank, and we get a clear picture of the painstaking detection that lies behind MacDonald’s brilliance.

The plot is nicely convoluted, involving murder, possible blackmail, secrets within families, a bit of adultery, and a solution that I only got to about five pages before MacDonald revealed all. MacDonald does, at one point, make a rather unbelievable leap of intuition, but for the most part the mystery is solved by conscientious fact-checking of alibis and identities, following suspects and making good use of forensic evidence.

Challenge details:
Book: 42
Subject Heading: Capital Crimes
Publication Year: 1937

The book is based in London – one of my favourite locations for crime novels – and Lorac is wonderfully descriptive in her writing, especially in the way she highlights the ancient and modern jostling side by side in the city, with short alleys leading from offices and factories to quiet little residential squares that seem unchanged by the passing centuries. The Belfry itself is a spooky place and Lorac gets in some nice little touches of horror to tingle the reader’s spine. It is of course written in the third person past tense, as all good fiction should be. (Opinionated? Moi? 😉 ) Back in the Golden Age, most crime authors wrote well but Lorac’s writing impressed me more than most, often having quite a literary feel without ever becoming pretentious.

In the tangled networks of courts and alleys which lie between Fleet Street and Holboro, Great Turnstile and Farringdon Street, there still exist certain small houses which were built not long after the great fire of 1666. It was in one of these that Grenville had been fortunate enough to find quarters – an absurd little red-tiled house of two stories, with a grass plot in front of it and its immediate neighbours. On all sides around this ancient oasis of greenery towered enormous blocks which reverberated day and night with the roar and clatter of printing presses, of restaurant activities, with the incessant whirr of the machinery which maintains the civilisation of this bewildering epoch of ours…

ECR Lorac (I think)

As with a lot of Golden Age fiction, there’s a romantic sub-plot – young Grenville is in love with Elizabeth, Attleton’s ward. They are both fun characters – Grenville is headstrong and occasionally foolish, always putting himself in danger and often paying the price for it, while Elizabeth is a modern girl, living in her club and with a mind and a will of her own. They give the reader someone to root for amidst the rest of the other rather unpleasant characters who are assembled as victims, suspects or both. Being modern young people, they talk in a kind of slang not far removed from how Wodehouse characters speak, and this adds a nice element of humour, keeping the overall tone light. MacDonald is no slouch in the slang department too, and I loved how Lorac gave each of the major characters such distinctive voices and personalities.

I can’t begin to imagine why a book as good as this one would ever have been allowed to become “forgotten”. The British Library Crime Classics can be a bit variable in quality, but it’s finding these occasional little gems among them that makes the series so enjoyable. One of their best, and happily they’ve reissued another of Lorac’s, Fire in the Thatch, which I’m looking forward to reading soon. Highly recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, British Library.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

26 thoughts on “Bats in the Belfry by ECR Lorac

  1. Oh, this does sound great, FictionFan. I do like it when a novel feels realistic, and I think you’re right that we don’t always get a good sense of police procedure from GA novels. The plot itself sounds int3, too. It does make me wonder how certain authors remain popular over time, and others don’t…

    • I loved this one, as you can tell! Yes, usually if it’s a police detective, he tends to work alone or just with a partner. It was interesting to see a whole team and get a real picture of them all doing “proper” police work in the background. I’m intrigued to see if her other book is up to the same standard…

  2. Whee, I love starting a week on a high note! This one sounds most intriguing, FF, and your review, I’m sure, does it justice. You’re seriously trying to beef up my TBR like yours, right?!!

    • I am! I won’t be satisfied until everyone else has at least 300 books on their TBR! 😉 If you do get a chance to read this on at some point, I think you’ll enjoy it – lots of fun and a good plot!

  3. It’s funny, I’m now familiar with your preference for crime novels written in the past tense, but I’ve never really noticed that sort of thing myself. But now that you keep bringing it up, it’s something I’m going to watch out for to see what I prefer…

    • Thank you! I love the title and the cover – I know the covers are always great, but this is one of the best! Hope you enjoy it – I’m certain you will… 😀

  4. This looks good! I want to read this for the youngster’s slang alone! Also because this is written in third person, past tense. And because of the cover. And the title. Not to mention your review 🙂

  5. Ah! All this time when you’ve mentioned The British Library Crime Classics, I thought they were anthologies of short stories and novellas. But they’re actually individually releasing forgotten books?

  6. I agree with everyone else, I don’t need any excuse to buy a BLCC, but this sounds particularly good. I love Elizabeth being a ‘modern girl’, and a London setting. Can’t wait to get started!

Please leave a comment - I'd love to know who's visiting and what you think...of the post, of the book, of the blog, of life, of chocolate...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.