Wulfstane Manor sits in the English countryside, a stately home gradually going to waste. The country seat of the Mallowood family, it has been bequeathed to Veronica and her brother, Martin. But as the brothers and sister gather at the Manor for the first time since their father’s funeral, it seems that at least one other member of the family thinks it should belong to them.
And then in the morning, a gunshot echoes through the building. Basil, one of Veronica’s older brothers, has locked himself in his bedroom and blown his head off with a shotgun. When suspicions begin to form that this was far from a straightforward suicide – not least the disappearance of two of the other brothers – it falls to Inspector Macdonald to find a cunning killer.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve been on the hunt for a great E C R Lorac title for a while. She has undergone something of a revival of late, thanks to the British Library. I’ve read four to date, the best being Checkmate To Murder, but even then, the books have all been basically good, with nothing making the author stand out. I was in mind to leave it a while before I came back to her work, but when I saw a copy of this one for only a few quid, well, it would be rude not to buy it, wouldn’t it?
And this is the book I’ve been looking for – by far, in my opinion, the most enjoyable Lorac title to date. So of course, it’s only got a score of 3.1 on Goodreads…
You have to, I think, accept with Lorac that Inspector Macdonald is basically there to solve the crime and not to entertain the reader. I’d call him a cipher, but there’s really nothing about him that makes you want to find out more. Like Bellairs’ Littlejohn, he’s there to facilitate the plot and not much else.
Making a satisfactory story from a small circle of suspects – one sister, three remaining brothers and one or two outsiders – is a challenge that often causes writers to trip themselves up. There are some good examples of it – Nicholas Blake’s The Case Of The Abominable Snowman springs to mind as a book where a surprise is conjured up from about five suspects – but too often the killer becomes obvious. Maybe I missed something here, but apart from one aspect of the tale, this still had a surprising ending. Oh, and the locked room is a proper locked room – a reasonably non-secret-passage solution as well. The Mallowood family is an engaging and distinctive set of characters and the plot never seemed to sag at any point.
Apologies that this isn’t as available as some of the other Lorac titles out there, but you never know, the British Library seems still keen on reprinting the Lorac titles, so there’s every chance this one might see the light of day sooner or later. Here’s hoping.
Oh, I’ve no idea what the title means, apart from the obvious. Sorry…