Shroud of Darkness (1954) by E C R Lorac

Even in 1954, trains didn’t run on time. As fog shrouds London, the Exeter train crawls into the station. Sarah Dillon had been enjoying the company of a handsome young man who was sharing her carriage, but he seemed to be getting more and more agitated as the train approached Paddington. As it pulled to a halt, he raced off the train at the first opportunity – but never made it out of the station on his own two feet.

His attacker both appeared and disappeared into the London fog and Inspector MacDonald had his hands full finding a motive for the attack. Well, that is rather hard to do when you don’t know the identity of the victim. While the London police turn their attention to the local public houses, on the lookout for local gangaters, Macdonald heads to Devon to try and find the victim’s roots. Bu it transpires that Devon might not be far enough…

You know what? I’m getting more and more impressed by Lorac’s work. Was she never considered a Queen of Crime due to the fact that the populace weren’t aware of her gender? It’s a shame that my favourite title of hers, Rope’s End, Rogue’s End, hasn’t made it to the British Library range, and it’s a shame that this one hasn’t shown up either, as it’s rather good.

There are a lot of plot threads swirling around in the London fog, one or two of which, such as the undercover police officer attacked after following someone from a pub, don’t really go anywhere – it adds to the sense of the police initially being at a loss as to the motivation for the attack, but it is odd in a Golden Age style novel for everything not to be intertwined.

The story builds nicely with an excellent finale on a cross-channel ferry, with the reader never quite knowing if Lorac is aiming for a clever misdirection or hiding the killer in plain site. At the end of the day, there’s a complex but satisfying story behind everything and it makes a very satisfying read.

There’s a great sense of the time – the descriptions of the Plymouth Blitz in 1941, the increase in gang crime in London since the war, inspired apparently by the US gangs of the previous decades, and, rather oddly, plugging some Green Penguins, notably [sic] Franchise Affair by Josephine Tay. Why oddly? Well, Lorac, as far as I know, never had a Green Penguin release, instead being part of the Collins Crime Club White Circle range.

I’ll be honest, Lorac has taken a little while to grow on me – it was probably the choice of book as The Sixteenth Stair is a bit on the weak side – but I’ve really enjoyed the last two titles I read and am looking forward to more.

7 comments

  1. I agree that her work tends to grow on you – I first encountered her many years ago when I bought “Still Waters” from a market stall, but didn’t get any more until some years later. You start to see some themes which keep coming up, such as the rambling old house with cellarage that someone may be hiding in. A pity that some of her books are so hard to find at sensible prices.

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  2. This was my first Lorac book and I liked the atmosphere a great deal. I’ve lucked into two nice hardbacks at our local library used bookstore for less than $5.00 each. But that was before vintage reprints brought so much attention to these books. That’s part of the good news/bad news of the attention vintage mysteries have gotten–much more available to the general public in reprint editions but those who have vintage editions haven’t been donating them to places like the library book store or our annual book fair…they’re selling them for much higher prices online.

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    • Well, it’s a good way to raise funds for underfunded libraries but a tragedy for those who want to read them. At least the British Library are reprinting a lot of Loracs…

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  3. The author passed away as far back as 1958 but still her books are not in public domain. In my opinion, the period of 70 years after death is unduly long and it should be reduced considerably.
    Anyway, I find that several of her books including Shroud of Darkness and Rope’s End, Rogue’s End are available in the “free book market.”

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    • Which is not a legal way to access texts. Hence I do not want it discussed on this blog. Yes, it is a shame that the full catalogue is not available, but it depends on the estate and a publisher willing to publish what is in effect a niche market. Seventy years from the author’s death allows their descendants to benefit from their works, a legacy if you will. Annoying at times for the reader, but perfectly understandable.

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