Manette’s Art School near Primrose Hill has long been a centre of excellence in the Art world, but with it now being “beaten by the Polytechnics and technical schools”, it is in danger of losing its reputation. As Richard Carling, a student of the school twelve years previously, returns for a visit from Australia, he can see the tensions running throughout the corridors of the building, from emotional strains such as the undying passion that several male students and staff have for the same young student, and the physical problems such as the broken base that is only just supporting a heavy statue of Venus…
And before you can say “I bet that statue’s going to fall on someone”, one of the teachers – an old friend of Carling – is found underneath the fallen statue, crushed to death. When Superintendent Wood isn’t convinced that it is an accident, Inspector MacDonald gets involved in the hunt for a killer with a seven-foot-tall murder weapon…
E C R Lorac is undergoing something of a resurgence in popularity, thanks to the British Library reprints and some dodgy ebooks. We’re still a very long way from a complete set of reissues of her work – there are over seventy books released as Lorac or Carol Carnac – so I thought on my next trip to the Bodleian, why not check out one of the uncollected titles? So I did.
This is, I think, the twelfth Lorac title, although not the twelfth MacDonald book, as he’s not in Death Of An Author, at least. I’ve never seen a detailed bibliography of Lorac’s work – if anyone can direct me to one, that would be great – but this comes after Post After Post-Mortem and before Bats In The Belfry, two British Library releases that I’d love to compare this to, but I haven’t read them. Whoops.
So what is this one like? Well, it’s another piece of evidence for the mystery of why Lorac was all but forgotten about while other, lesser writers, persisted.
Oh, it’s not amazing, let’s be clear. Christie is still streets ahead when it comes to the puzzle. But it is a superb example of a solid murder mystery. An interesting setting, some nice red herrings, a surprise (well, a bit of one) in the reveal. To be honest, it’s quite easy to pick a few flaws – a couple of suspects just sort of fade away making it not much of a surprise when the killer is revealed, and there’s some stuff about footprints that never really goes anywhere, almost as if Lorac was toying with an impossible crime and then sort of gave up. Oh, and it’s a bit weird how the book starts focussing on Carling and then basically abandons him – although there’s a nice bit when you think Lorac is setting up some shenanigans concerning him covering up part of the crime and MacDonald sees right through them from minute one. I do like MacDonald, even if he’s a bit light on personality and hasn’t a quirk to call his own.
But this is a really fun traditional murder mystery that I really enjoyed reading despite not being able to get hold of any of the comfy chairs in the library (there aren’t that many) and being surrounded by panicky finalists. Not spectacular, but a very enjoyable classic mystery. If only there was a plan to reprint the whole back catalogue, rather than one seemingly random title every six months or so…
I sometimes wonder whether Christie was streets ahead of everyone when it comes to the puzzle simply because she didn’t bother with considerations of theme or style.
In a Pat Wentworth book, for example, you always know that it’s not going to be either the dashing young man or the girl with whom he’s due to fall in love.
Likewise, Dorothy Sayers is never going to strain credibility past a certain point just for the sake of an ingenious plot mechanism.
The more Golden Age authors I’ve tried in recent years, with Lorac being among the first of those, the more I’ve come to appreciate her. Her books are always readable and enjoyable.
I was introduced to Lorac through one of your reviews – thank you for that. In tracking copies down, I’ve used http://www.stopyourekillingme.com – especially helpful with UK/US title differences.
This sounds like another ” should be reissued” Lorac title. My own opinion on her neglect vis-a-vis others is to do with adaptations. There have been so many versions of both Christie and Sayers on film/TV /and radio that the books have stayed in print. Lorac would make for very good viewing but perhaps more skill and imagination would be needed. I still wonder at the differences between Lorac and Carnac reissues.