I thoroughly enjoyed the last E.C.R Lorac I read - Bats in the Belfry, not least for all its splendid gothic detail when it came to Londons architecture, so I came to 'Fire in the Thatch' with reasonably high expectations.
E.C.R Lorac was a pen name if Edith Caroline Rivett - an unjustly forgotten queen of crime if these two from the British Library Crime Classics series can be judged by. (I hear they've been so popular that more of her work is going to make it back into print this year).
I liked 'Fire in the Thatch' even more that 'Bats in the Belfry' - partly because I found myself much more engaged with the characters in this one, and as a result of that wrong footed from the start. In this case I really warmed to the victim - who I was expecting to be a red herring of a suspect, so their untimely demise was a bit of a shock - and I very much wanted to know who and why.
I also liked the portrait of war time tension between town types and country folk. June St Cyres is the bored and broke daughter in law, sitting out the war whilst her husband is a Japanese POW with his somewhat disapproving family. They're old fashioned county sorts and neither side have much sympathy for each other. It's probably easier to like the St Cyres, but quite possible to sympathise with June. At least I found that for all her many faults I didn't find her desire to seize the day and have some fun very hard to understand.
June interests me because there's a rich tradition of these bad wives and mothers in war time fiction. Women more interested in fun then responsibility, and seemingly quite happy to cheat on absent husbands. It's not until Mary Wesley's books came along that I can think of anyone who was really sympathetic to these 'bad' women. But Mary had been just such a woman, and her point of view was refreshing. Lorac doesn't spend a lot of time on June, but bad, or ill advised, marriages keep cropping up in this book.
Altogether it's a satisfyingly twisty problem to try and solve. The first question is if there's even been a crime to answer, and from there the clues exist (with hindsight) but the murderer is never obvious, the red herrings are enjoyable, the characters altogether more rounded than is often the case, and the whole thing deeply atmospheric.