Bats in the Belfry by ECR Lorac – Review

Bats in the Belfry by ECR Lorac Book Review logo

By Sandra Callard

Bats in The Belfry by ECR Lorac, a pseudonym of Elizabeth Caroline Rivett, is a further book from the British Library Crime Classics, and is a superlative example of the skill of the writers from the Golden Age of Crime.

Published in 1937, it is gloriously redolent of the jolly old type of speech that denotes the upper classes: For example ‘Bat me one over the boko, what?’ or ‘Gosh, the blighter’ or ‘Lor! what a lark!’.

The clever and steady Inspector Macdonald of Scotland Yard presides over an array of suspects which range from wealthy entrepreneurs and a society actress to a barmy dosser who apparently resides in a spooky house named The Belfry in old London town.

“Sharp brain”

Bats in the Belfry by ECR Lorac Book Review coverThe stage is set as we wait for the inevitable body to appear, and appear it does, spectacularly plastered within a wall of The Belfry, horrifically minus head and hands!

Lorac skilfully weaves a spider’s web of guilt from one suspect to another, each one looking decidedly guilty, until we are forced to rely on the unequivocally sharp brain and third eye of Macdonald to sort it out for us.

The descriptions of Thirties London, with its fog, dirt and fabulous wealth, are clear as a bell, and the story moves along at a fair trot, dredging up further tantalising clues as we go. The book is filled with characters who are so clearly drawn they come bursting out of the pages. We can see the lovely Elizabeth’s bouncy red curls, her admirer, Grenville’s solid and fearless stature and the mysterious Debrette’s long black beard with its distinctive white streak.

“Cut and thrust”

Macdonald has a crack team of detectives under him, and the final chase and denouement as they career through London in a police car, followed and overtaken by a fire engine, whose crew are the heroes of the hour, is almost as exciting as the real thing might be.

This is all manna from heaven for the none-too-serious crime fiction reader, but malign it at your peril. The cut and thrust of modern crime fiction is a genre miles away from the fast, clue-ridden, clever and amusing skill of the long-ago writers of Golden Age crime novels. They require a plot with a firm precision that lets nobody off the hook until the final pages, and the self-congratulation if you guess who-done-it is profound, as is the self-disgust if you get it wrong.

This is a beautifully written book with a clear and tight prose, and pleasingly not quite as indicative of its age as some penned in this era. The complicated plot is engineered so skilfully that it requires but a modicum of effort to follow every clue, and the whole thing is wrapped up neatly and methodically. A jolly good read!

‘Bats in the Belfry: A London Mystery’ by ECR Lorac is published by The British Library, £8.99


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