Devon, the end of the second World War, and Nicholas Vaughan, released from the army following his recovery from an accident, takes up residence in Little Thatch, a small farmhouse. It’s the idyllic life, farming the land, enjoying the countryside – there’s a few neighbours that he doesn’t get on with, city folk who wanted to rent the cottage themselves. But when Little Thatch burns to the ground, and Vaughan is found dead inside, it is written off as a terrible accident.
Vaughan’s ex-commanding officer has his doubts, and asks Inspector Macdonald of Scotland Yard to investigate. Macdonald soon becomes convinced that foul play was involved – but what could be the motive for the murder of a man who was essentially a stranger to everyone?
E C R Lorac aka Carol Carnac aka Edith Caroline Rivett is one of the more sought after “lost classic authors” of the Golden Age detective scene and the British Library has re-released two of her books -Bats In The Belfry, which I’ll take a look at soon, and this one, Fire In The Thatch. This is about halfway through the Macdonald canon. Macdonald (his forename is Robert, but you won’t find it mentioned in this one) is a Scot who is now based in London and is a fairly by the book Golden Age investigator – no particular distinguishing features or characteristics, I’m afraid, which fits nicely into my “why certain crime writers have been all but forgotten” theory of posts past.
There’s a similarity to Ngaio Marsh here, with the pre-murder set-up being the best part of the book. But unlike Marsh, the second part is still a perfectly entertaining story, with a well-constructed mystery with clear paths of deduction. There’s nothing revolutionary about the plot structure, but the characters, for the most part, are an interesting bunch.
There are some dodgy attempts are writing Devonian accents – there are a couple of almost indecipherable phrases – and the claim that Devon children have slower reactions than Cockney evacuees is an interesting one – but other than that, it bounces along nicely enough.
As I said, there’s nothing ground-breaking here, but it’s a well-written, well-constructed classic mystery. Well Worth A Look.
Also by E C R Lorac on the blog:
Seemed to have enjoyed this one more than you, though it seems you haven’t had much luck with Lorac. Hopefully Bats in the Belfry will be more enjoyable for you.
It’s perfectly fine, like all the Lorac titles that I’ve read. Just nothing that makes it stand out from the crowd, apart from just being “good”. Which is a picky sort of criticism, I know…
That’s almost exactly what I said in my review of Death at Dyke’s Corner: “… there is no single work that stands out and that has been cherished by critics as her finest work. They’re all good, but none of them seems to be great.” The nice thing is, barring a few very late titles like The Last Escape, none of them is terrible either. https://noah-stewart.com/2015/08/03/death-at-dykes-corner-by-e-c-r-lorac-1940/
It seems a real shame that most of the reviews of Lorac novels I’ve read don’t seem to suggest that her novels were anything more than middle-of-the-road. From vague recollection it seems like JJ and Kate had been positive about one or two titles – but apart from that, many other opinions seem at best lukewarm.
[…] Fire In The Thatch by E C R Lorac – the second of two Lorac reissues from the British Library. Consistently good, but still nobody has answered my questions if Lorac ever went from consistently good to great with any of her output. […]
[…] Prior Rulings– crossexaminingcrime, In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel […]