Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Checkmate to Murder - E.C.R. Lorac

 After reading two crime classics that felt quite innovative, 'Checkmate to Murder' definitely has a more traditional feel to it, it's also full of later war time London atmosphere (it was published in 1944), and altogether it is an eminently satisfying book. 

An artist is painting his model in a studio built in the garden of a Hampstead House long past it's glory days. They have two friends playing chess in the room with them, and the artists sister comes and goes throughout the evening as she prepares supper for them all in the small kitchen. Their landlords char lady comes in to see her after checking up on the old man who owns the house, and leaves the latch key on the table by mistake. Not long after a brash special constable arrives with an injured soldier in tow. He's accusing the soldier of murdering the old man in the house.

The soldier turns out to be his great nephew, and the general idea at this point is that he's probably innocent. The special constable seems suspicious but it could be a red herring, the char is above reproach - so could it have been one of the studio party, and if so how?

The eventual answer is reasonably ingenious, and the clues are sort of all there to be picked up on, so the plot works perfectly well, but what I found really enjoyable about this book was the mood it presented. The full horror of the blitz is in the past and Londoners are sort of recovering from it, whilst also still being marked by the experience. We can surmise that some characters have shown their best in a crisis, others have been brutalized by it, some couldn't stick it from the start, some are attempting to profiteer - or at least look to the future, and others are just trying to get by.

Anything like this has taken on a whole new resonance thanks to Covid, which if nothing else demonstrates what it's like to be in a country that collectively facing a specific threat. At this point of dragging local lockdowns and ever more confusing regulations depending on precisely where you are, it's becoming increasingly easy to see how the rules get flouted on one hand, but also how the majority of people following rules makes it easier for those intent on breaking them to do so. 

It was also a reminded that the blitz didn't last for the whole of the war. I have Paul Addison and Jeremy A. Crang's The Spirit of the Blitz - Home Intelligence and British Morale from OUP in front of me at the moment, waiting to be read, and this book was very much a reminder that I could do with understanding a lot more about this part of our history. 

'Checkmate To Murder' is a solidly entertaining mystery set against an interesting background that's enough to have me chasing after more serious reading (and also more Lorac). The sort of comfortable reading that will see you through a hot afternoon or a rainy evening, and definitely the kind of book I want at the moment.  


  1. Have to wait till February for it to be released in the US. Sounds good, I wish they would release these classic mysteries at the same time on both sides of the Atlantic. I have to try to remember when they are to come out. I know I could order physical books shipped, but I prefer to read in Kindle format.

    Thanks for the review.

  2. My amazon wish list is basically a reminder to me of forthcoming books. I don't actually buy much from amazon, I'll use my local bookshop if I can, but I love their list function. It is annoying this series doesn't get published at the same time though.