Tuesday, September 28, 2021

These Names Make Clues - E.C.R. Lorac

If I thought the books were out of hand before now, working in a bookshop looks set to dial it up further - I have so many exciting review copies of things hanging around at the moment (mostly in piles on the floor as that's the easiest way to see them) and I've been buying with enthusiasm too. I'm even reading books too - which is seriously slowing down my knitting, but there are worse problems to have. 

These Names Make Clues is the latest title from the British Library Crime Classics series, it's a particularly intriguing addition to the canon. Lorac (the pen name of Edith Caroline Rivett) was elected into The Detection Club in 1937, the year this came out and the same year as she wrote Bats in the Belfry. Martin Edwards makes a convincing case for the influence the club might have had on this novel which adds to the fun of it. 

Chief Inspector Macdonald is invited along to a treasure hunt in the home of a publisher he has recently met (whilst unknowingly insulting one of the books he publishes). He'd rather stay at home with his book*, something I'm sure most of us can relate to but feels he'll look a fool if he doesn't go - and maybe be a fool if he does. Macdonald does the only thing he can - flips a coin, and finds himself committed to the party. At least it has the lure of a couple of people he'd very much like to meet, although they'll all be operating under literary pseudonyms, part of the game is to guess who each other might be, and to see if the detective fiction writers can solve the puzzles faster than academics or the Scotland Yard man.

It should surprise nobody, or be any kind of a spoiler, to learn that someone is killed during the treasure hunt. Macdonald, probably wishing more than ever that he'd stayed home, feels that something isn't quite right. It could have been a death due to natural causes, bet he, and we, are here for murder. 

What follows is enjoyable - the suspects are a smart lot operating under their own ideas of what constitutes right and wrong. There are any number of red herrings, the pseudonyms are their own form of clue, and there's plenty here that puts me in mind of Agatha Christie, which is a considerable compliment. 

Generally speaking, I think Lorac is an excellent author to turn to if you've run out of Christie's or want something similar but different, but in this book in particular they feel close. This is partly because of the nature of the mystery and its setting which both feel like they might be paying homage to Christie. Lorac's characters behave in their own way (although I suddenly realise however much Christie I've watched, it's a long time since I actually read her), but I'm confidant fans of one will love the other. An excellent mystery to dispel the misery of a cold, wet, autumn evening. 

*The book name-checked is by Peter Flemming, older brother of Ian who was as yet unknown as a writer, which is another pleasing detail I gleaned from the introduction. 


  1. The plot sounded familiar, but I couldn't find it in any Lorac books/eBooks that I own. Then I realized that at least part of the plot can be found in an Inspector Tebbit mystery by Patricia Moyes, A Six Letter Word for Death. That book also features a social gathering with the detective and a group of authors where the authors will "be operating under literary pseudonyms, part of the game is to guess who each other might be, and to see if the detective fiction writers can solve the puzzles faster . . . the Scotland Yard man" Eventually I assume that this book will be released in the US, but in general some months after the UK.


    1. The introduction says that Christie used a plot with similarities the year before this was published. The idea of pitting the police against academics and mystery writers is such a pleasing one and has so many possibilities that I imagine it's been used a lot. The way Lorac does it here is quite gentle, and focuses more on the women in the book and what they have going on which is a bit different to other things I've read that come close in plotting. There's a Nigel Strangeways short story that I think uses the device as well?

    2. Perhaps the Christie referred to in the intro is Cards on the Table?

      I am thrilled to say that although the US Kindle and paperback editions don't come out until 2022, they do allow us in the US to buy the audiobook from Audible! This is also true for Two Way Murder.

      I have read those Lorac (and Carol Carnac) books released in the US in Kindle or Audible format. On the whole I enjoy the rural ones more than those set in London, but this sounds so interesting that I can't resist.