One year ago, Rosemary Reeve disappeared on the eve of the Hunt Ball, and tragedy is about to repeat itself again. Nicholas Brent won the right to drive the much-desired Dilys Maine home from the ball, but on nearing her home, they found a body in the road, a body that had been seemingly deliberately driven over.
Brent sends Dilys home across the fields and heads to a nearby farmhouse to call for help, only to be attacked by an intruder. When the police arrive in the form of Inspector Waring, it becomes clear that Brent stumbled upon a murder. Is it linked to Rosemary’s disappearance? It’s hard to say when nobody seems to know who the victim in the road actually was?
E C R Lorac’s last published novel was Dishonour Among Thieves in 1959, but the operative word there is “was”. In some papers that belonged to Edith Caroline Rivett (aka Lorac aka Carol Carnac) there was discovered an unpublished novel – this one – and now, thanks to Martin Edwards, collector James M Pickard and the British Library, there is one more title in her official canon.
Note, it’s not an Inspector MacDonald mystery, it is a standalone mystery. In Martin’s introduction, he says that the cover had the author’s name as Mary Le Bourne. Was this just a habit of hers, or was this perhaps an attempt to start a new pseudonym? Rivett was only 64 when she died after a short bout of ill health, so she might have expected to have many more books in her.
If that is the case, I wonder who the series character was supposed to be? This is one of those titles where you’re never quite sure who the sleuth is supposed to be, and a number of characters seem to stumble to the truth at the same time. Is it supposed to be Inspector Waring? Nick Brent? Dilys? Brent’s friend, MacBane? We’ll probably never know.
But it’s a late book from the writer and that often doesn’t bode well. So many writers do their best work in their early or middle careers, so I’ll be honest, my excitement at this wasn’t exactly at its highest. Curiosity, yes, but not really excitement. However…
… it’s really rather good. The characters are interesting, and, if you can turn a blind eye to probably too many people knowing what happened in the past, there’s some really nice interactions between them, along with a few surprises on the way from how you might expect things to play out. And what is more, there is a damn fine trick played by the murderer. One of those tricks where the writer just dangles it under the reader’s nose – I even noticed the dangling – and yet I didn’t put two and two together. It’s that perfect thing – a clue in plain sight that I completely missed.
It’s not perfect – one character never seems to make an actual appearance, for example, and some behaviour doesn’t make perfect sense, characters choosing to sit on knowledge, rather than act on it. It does all build to an effective and satisfying conclusion, and overall, this is a satisfying mystery, even more so as I didn’t expect it to be. The campaign to elevate Rivett to the official title of Crime Queen (if they can only be four, then we can lose Dame Ngaio) begins here!
Two-Way Murder is out now from the British Library.