Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Death of an Author - E.C.R. Lorac

Somewhere in my flat my are my glasses, I don't know where which is becoming increasingly annoying. I can't remember exactly when I last wore them either (they're more or less just for reading and sewing in ends on knitting - or picking up tiny stitches, I couldn't find them last night, but they might have had a good 48 hours to get lost in before that). I hope they haven't been through the washing machine. I check my pockets, but given how frequently a tissue gets through that process, it's not impossible that I've washed them. It's even possible that they've got into the duvet cover. It's all upsettingly middle-aged. 

I'm at the point of frustration over the missing glasses that I feel solving a murder would be easy by comparison, even one as fiendishly involved as in 'Death of an Author' where the exact identity of the victim is as big a mystery as that of the murderer. 

Originally published in 1935 and out of print until now there's something unexpectedly current about the plotting here - it hinges on the identity of a reclusive author, Vivian Lestrange, who so jealously defends their privacy they send their secretary to masquerade as them to their publishers. It's such a successful ruse that the police aren't entirely convinced that Eleanor really isn't Vivian.

In an online world where it's remarkably easy to build whatever identity we wish for ourselves and to have everything we need bought to our doors without so much as having to visit a bank for cash the concept of a celebrity that nobody has seen isn't much of a stretch. As anybody who has ever had to deal with identity theft will tell you, proving who you are isn't that easy either. This is Elanor's problem as she tries to prove there's both a case to investigate and that she's innocent of any wrong doing.

E.C.R. Lorac was a pen name for Edith Caroline Rivett, she also wrote as Carol Carnac so it's interesting to see how she talks about the differences between male and female writers. A recurring theme throughout the book is could Vivian Lestrange's novels have been written by a woman? All the men think not - I did make a pencil annotation of a passage where a list of women writers are given (definitely Dorothy L. Sayers and F. Tennyson Jesse get a mention, but apparently without my glasses I can't find it again).

I wonder how tongue-in-cheek Lorac's comments are as I don't think anybody would ever think that Sayers's Gaudy Night was written by a man, and F. Tennyson Jesse's sympathy for her female characters - especially in A Pin To See The Peepshow also seems specifically female. Lorac's insistence that you can't tell the difference also marks her out as a woman writer - though it's the idea of feminine that she seems to particularly object to, and I certainly wouldn't describe her so. 

Altogether this is my favourite Lorac so far (though as Carol Carnac 'Crossed Skis' is stiff competition). It's a view of 1930's literary London that I found particularly appealing, even more so than 'These Names Make Clues'. Without giving spoilers the motivation for the murder is particularly strong here and all things considered, the ending is particularly satisfying if you feel as I did about the characters involved. 


  1. I am really looking forward to the North American publication of this one!