Sunday, March 25, 2018

Bats in the Belfry - E.C.R Lorac

It is tempting to talk about last nights performance of The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich at the RSC, or the preceding visit to Coughton Court, ancestral home of the Throckmorton family (Warwickshire, and the midlands more generally are definitely gunpowder plot country, something that I'm only just starting to appreciate) both of which went a long way towards lifting the black mood the rest of the week had left me with.

But those are just the sort of distractions that have stopped me writing about 'Bats in the Belfry' for a week or more now, and as I've just looked up to see my first bat* of the season I couldn't have had a clearer reminder to get on with the book review.

'Bats in the Belfry' provides the reader with a splendid puzzle to solve. Bruce Attleton is a novelist whose early success has not been repeated, fortunately he's married to a successful actress who can pay his bills, and who hasn't managed to get the neccesary proof to divorce him, and he's generally well liked. It's odd then when he doesn't turn up for a meeting in Paris, and odder still when his luggage, complete with passport, is found in a ramshackle studio building known as the Belfry.

Attleton's friends start an investigation, which reveals a possible blackmailer, before the police are called in but everything seems to hit a dead end until blood (in the best CSI fashion) is found, and then some very grisly remains.

The clues are all more or less there for the reader to piece together, with the how being rather more elusive than the who, and plenty of good red herrings to spin things out. The plot is delightfully intricate, with some lovely details including the importance of a beard - so really everything you could want from golden age detective fiction - and there's more...

The subtitle is 'A London Mystery', and what makes this book really come to life is Lorac's obvious joy in some of the strange and beautiful little bits of architecture tucked into odd corners of the capital. I don't know if she based these on real buildings, or if they're just inspired by odd and unexpected architectural gems any city will throw up for you if you look hard enough. There's the Belfry, a gothic monstrosity in Notting Hill which sounds like something from a Hammer horror film just for starters, but all the main suspects live in beautifully described showpieces. It's a nice touch, providing a solidly believable set for the plot to unfold against.

*My flat window looks out onto a sort of gravelled courtyard car park for what is now an office. Sometimes there are pigeons or crows, occasionally a squirrel, but otherwise not a lot of wildlife which makes watching the bats a particular treat.

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