Fell Murder (Inspector MacDonald 24) by ECR Lorac

Rural but not an idyll…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Old Robert Garth rules his family with a rod of iron and, although he’s a fair landlord, he stands no nonsense from the tenant farmers on his land. A man who, in his eighties, still can put in a long day’s physical work, he has no time for those he sees as weaklings. So when he’s found murdered, there are plenty of people who might have done the foul deed, each with differing motives. But when it’s discovered that his eldest and long-estranged son, Richard, has been seen around the district, he naturally becomes the prime suspect. It’s up to Inspector MacDonald, called in from Scotland Yard to help the overstretched local police, to find Richard, and to decide whether he, or some other person, is the guilty party…

One of ECR Lorac’s greatest strengths is the way she makes her settings central to her stories, whether in the alleys of London or, as in this case, in the farming community of the Lune Valley, a place she apparently knew well. Her descriptions of the landscape are wonderful, showing the rugged beauty of the dales and fells, the unpredictable weather and the way the land has been shaped and formed by the generations who have farmed it. She is clear-eyed about the hard labour involved in farming but shows her characters as having a strong bond to their land and a love of their way of life.

Set towards the end of the Second World War, she also gives us intriguing glimpses of how war affected farming, partly by removing so many men from the labour force and bringing more women on to the land, and partly through government pressure to adopt more intensified farming methods, such as ploughing up traditional pasture land to allow for more planting of vegetable crops to feed a hungry populace no longer able to import food as easily as before the war. She shows too the additional tasks that have fallen on the police to oversee the new war-time regulations – black-out rules, rationing of goods and petrol, licensing and control of all kinds of things that used to be left up to suppliers and consumers – all leaving them under pressure when required to investigate the normal criminal activities that continue regardless of war.

The local Superintendent is a townie with little understanding of the ways of the farmers and a kind of disdain for them, and so he hits a brick wall in getting them to talk openly to him. But Inspector MacDonald is a different breed – he may be a London policeman now, but he’s a Scot by birth and has lived in rural communities before. He understands the land and secretly rather wishes he could take up farming himself. This all helps him to find ways to break down the rural resistance to outsiders and to grasp at motives that a townsman may not think of. It’s not long before he has a good idea of what happened to old Garth – now all he has to do is prove it.

Another excellent entry in the series – of the ones I’ve read so far, I find the books written around the time of WW2 seem to show her at the peak of her considerable talent in terms of plotting and, while I have enjoyed all of her settings, especially wartime London in Murder by Matchlight, the countryside ones always impress me with their affectionate but entirely unromanticised portrayals of rural communities.

As a little bonus, there’s an extra short story at the end of the volume, Live Wire. It’s only a few pages long – a tale of a criminal attempting to steal gold bullion from a train – but it’s very well done, darkly funny and highly entertaining, with a deliciously twisted ending. I usually forget to mention that there’s quite often a short story tucked in at the end of the BL releases, I assume when the page count of the novel is slightly shorter than the norm. It’s a bit like finding there’s still one chocolate left in the box when you think you’ve already eaten them all…

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

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22 thoughts on “Fell Murder (Inspector MacDonald 24) by ECR Lorac

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed this too. I think Lorac’s strengths are her descriptive writing, and her characterisation as well as her plotting. I hope to read more by her this year. The short story is good too – and I’m not a big fan of short stories!


    • Yes, she’s so good at settings and her characters always feel real. I also like that she uses all kinds of different settings so that every book feels different. She’s been one of the real finds from the BL series so far.


    • Oh good, I hope you enjoy it! The great thing is that they’re usually quite short in comparison to contemporary crime – I quite often find I can read them in one or two sessions over a lazy weekend… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so glad this series is getting new life, FictionFan. Lorac really was so talented, and you’re right about her way of evoking place and local culture. Her characters are interesting, too. And, although I wouldn’t call the series ‘funny’ at all, there are some moments of well-drawn wit. All in all, a series that deserves a new audience.


    • It’s been one of the real finds to come out of the BL series so far. She’s so good at characterisation as well as the settings, and MacDonald is a very likeable detective. I always enjoy the way he works well with the local police. I do hope the BL keep them coming!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love the idea of a bit of extra reading at the end of these books! Kind of like what old-time bakers used to do, provide a 13th sweet to a box advertised as holding a dozen. Makes one feel they’re getting more than their money’s worth!


    • Ha! Yes! I’d forgotten that old tradition – always fun to see what they included! Supermarket shopping might be more convenient, but it’s just not the same… 😀 I always love when there’s a short story at the end – it’s a great way to get these shorter books up to full length…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, she’s definitely one of the stars to come out of the BL series so far. I love the way she writes about the countryside for that very reason – she writes like someone who knows these communities from the inside… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The only Lorac in my TBR is Murder in the Mill-Race. I hope it has a bonus short story, too! This sounds good and I’ll keep it in mind if I enjoy the one I already have. I know, I know. You want me hooked on ALL the new BL releases!! 😜


    • I can’t remember if Murder in the Mill-Race has a bonus story or not, and anyway it would spoil the surprise if I told you… 😉 It’s a good one though, and will definitely make you want to add all her other ones. And then you can get started on the other authors… 😂

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m pretty sure you’d enjoy a lot of them since you’re enjoying Agatha Christie so much. She’s still the Queen of course, but loads of these “forgotten” authors are very entertaining. I do like the way Lorac writes about farming communities – she clearly knows them well, whereas an awful lot of Golden Age writers were more city-based.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve grown very fond of him as I’ve read more of the books – so nice to have a decent, well-balanced, honourable detective! Yep, the BL has added loads of fun to my reading life – can’t imagine what I’d do without them now… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. How curious, this little short story tucked in at the end-I had never heard of that! And i do believe, and this is my rant for the day, that books in the olden days took better advantage of those end pages. Now, I’ll frequently come across a hardcover that has a bunch of blanks in the back-why not advertise other books in those pages? Serials tend to do this quite well, but really, publishers should take better advantage of this free advertising space!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It seems to be a thing with these re-released vintage books. HarperCollins sometimes do it in theirs too. I think they must think modern readers will complain if the page count isn’t at least 240! You’re right, and I’m sure in ye olden days the extra pages at the back were full of ads for other books, and it was very successful if I’m typical – I used to quite often find my next read there…

      Liked by 1 person

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