These Names Make Clues by ECR Lorac

MacDonald on the spot…

😀 😀 😀 😀

After being rather rude about detective fiction to a man he later discovered was Graham Coombe, a publisher of the genre, Inspector MacDonald is surprised to be invited to a little party at Coombe’s house. The party is to be a treasure hunt, with a group of thriller writers and a group of more heavyweight writers competing to solve clues which will lead them to the treasure. Coombe thinks it will be amusing to have a bona fide detective there too, especially one who is on record as suggesting that real detectives are better at solving things than fictional ones. MacDonald hesitates, but in the end decides to go. So he’s on the spot when one of the guests is killed…

This is quite different in style to the other Loracs I’ve read. She was clearly having fun at the expense of her own profession and there’s some mild humour over various styles and personalities which Martin Edwards suggests in his introduction may have been influenced by her chums in the Detection Club. But it’s not as light-hearted as it at first seems – there’s a serious plot in there too.

Each guest at the party is given a literary pseudonym and part of the game is for them all to work out who each other is in real life, most of them never having met before. While this conceit is quite amusing, I must say it led to a good deal of confusion for this poor reader. For the first few chapters we are introduced to “Samuel Pepys”, “Jane Austen” and so on, and then after the murder they all start to be called by their “real” names, which, as is normal in the world of novel-writing, are often pseudonyms too. So with each character having at least two names, sometimes more, I spent a ridiculous amount of time going back to the list which is happily provided a few chapters in, of which pseudonym matches which “real” name. This also made me realise that I wasn’t building up a real picture of most of the characters, or they should have been recognisable by that regardless of which name was being used for them.

The plot is as complex as the names and really couldn’t be described as fair-play, I feel. However, since I can rarely work out whodunit and don’t make much of an effort to try, this didn’t bother me. The book has a traditional “closed circle” of suspects – it’s clear that it must have been someone in the house during the party who committed the first crime. It also has the kind of complicated murder method more common in a howdunit style of mystery, but in this one MacDonald very quickly works out the how and the reader is allowed to know too. Of course, there is a second murder, and it has aspects of the locked room mystery, again with a complicated method. So there’s a lot going on, too much, I felt, and too many coincidences at play.

Normally Lorac’s settings play a major part in her books, be it London in the Blitz or the rural Lune Valley. This one hasn’t got that – although Coombe’s house is in London it has more of the feel of the “country house” mystery, with most of the action taking place in people’s drawings rooms.

I enjoyed it more than this review is probably suggesting, but I didn’t think it was quite up to the standard I’ve come to expect of her. I liked that we got to see MacDonald off duty in the first section of the book, making him feel a bit more rounded as a character. And I always enjoy the way he’s a team player, involving his junior officers fully and neither ridiculing nor patronising them, as some Golden Age police ‘tecs do. So plenty to like about it, but I’d tend to suggest it’s one for existing Lorac fans – new readers would be better to start elsewhere, probably with one of her wartime books where I feel she excels.

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

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37 thoughts on “These Names Make Clues by ECR Lorac

  1. Shame that this didn’t quite live up to her usual standards, as I know she’s generally thought to be one of the biggest successes of the BL collection. I finally read my first ECR Lorac recently – Checkmate to Murder – and loved it! I’m sure I’ll get to this one eventually too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I loved Checkmate to Murder too! I always love her wartime settings, whether it’s London in the blackout or out in farming country. I have a feeling her style changed when the war started though I haven’t read enough to be sure of that. A couple of the earlier ones I’ve read are more like this one – lighter and more like puzzles – whereas the wartime ones tend to be more serious and concentrate more on character. I think she’s the real star of all the writers the BL has brought back to prominence.

      Liked by 2 people

    • She’s always enjoyable even when not at her best, but the confusion over the characters in this one was too much for my poor little brain to cope with! I enjoy her wartime books best, where they tend to be more about characters than puzzles.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Even when Lorac wasn’t at her best, FictionFan, she still did some good work, I think. And there is something about that house party/closed circle of suspects sort of plot. It’s a classic setup which I always enjoy. I do like a bit of wit in a story, too, so long as it’s not over-the-top. It’s good to know you enjoyed this, even if it wasn’t in your list of the best.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is such a clever premise, but I can see how it would get confusing! I’m sure I’d need to keep looking back at the names list, too, which means I wouldn’t want to read it on my Kindle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, yes, it would be even more annoying on a Kindle – at least I could just stick a bookmark in the relevant page! However, it’s still enjoyable, though not up to the standard of her wartime books in my opinion…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Probably one I’ll be passing on. I don’t think I’m up to something quite that complicated. Gee, every character has a pseudonym to keep up with? No. It almost sounds as if the author were deliberately trying to confuse the reader!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This is another one I’m eagerly awaiting over here and quite like the sound of the complexity of it all, though can understand why you don’t feel it’s among her best. But she’s so good a slightly less good is still greatly appealing…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, indeed, she’s always fun even when not quite at her best! And maybe your brain will be able to cope with all the pseudonyms – I have problems remembering characters’ names at the best of times! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I like the sounds of this one, but a novel with a ton of names (and in this case, double the names!) would frustrate me. It’s good that a list is included, but flipping between pages tends to break up my reading flow…

    Liked by 2 people

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