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BATS IN THE BELFRY (1937)
by E.C.R. Lorac, Martin Edwards, ed.
British Library Crime Classics, January 2018
237 pages
8.99 GBP
ISBN: 0712352554


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Two-hit-wonder novelist Bruce Attleton is suddenly called to Paris, but doesn't come back. His friend Rockingham believes that Attleton has been threatened by a foreigner called Debrette and persuades Grenville, a mutual friend who wants to marry Attleton's ward, to hunt down Debrette while Rockingham himself goes to Paris to look for Attleton. Grenville tracks Debrette down to a artist's studio in 'The Morgue', an ex-church in Notting Hill with a notably ugly and massive tower. Debrette refuses to speak to Grenville, so Grenville goes back the next day and breaks in. Here he finds Attleton's suitcase and passport. When Rockingham returns from Paris with the news that Attleton never checked in to his hotel, the pair go to the police and Lorac's series detective Inspector MacDonald begins his investigation into the novelist's absence. Around the time a headless body is found concealed in The Morgue, everyone realises that Debrette has disappeared as well.

BATS IN THE BELFRY is another in the British Library Crime Classics series. The series title is a bit of a misnomer, as rather than being established classics that everyone is familiar with (even if only via film and television adaptations), all the books in the series have been out of print for a considerable time. They are all recent enough to be ineligible for scanning by the Gutenburg Project, and all have an informative introduction by Martin Edwards. They're all worth reading because they depict the past from within, rather than with hindsight.

E.C.R. Lorac was the nom de plume of Edith Caroline Rivett. She had 49 books published between 1931 and 1959, with a another 23 books written as Carol Carnac. In the year of BATS IN THE BELFRY's publication she became a member of the Detection Club.

BATS IN THE BELFRY starts slowly enough, with a chapter introducing all the important characters. Once it gets going the plot involves a satisfying and quite atmospheric amount of running about the streets of London. A lot of the action is due to the amateurs 'helping' the police. The police, in the person of Inspector MacDonald, are more staid, MacDonald being a patient and solid sort of detective, even when both of the potential candidates for the headless corpse are seen alive on the same day. After the killer is revealed, there's a final chapter in which Macdonald explains everything that happened and how he caught the culprit in a very clear manner for his superior, Colonel Wragley, and for any reader who got left behind.

It doesn't really affect the quality of the book, but this volume does illustrate a limitation of the British Library's policy of using parts of old railway posters for the covers of the Crime Classics series. It seems that the only sinister tower in London they could find was the Great Western's picture of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge which look like a castle and a bridge respectively, and not all like a converted church lit by the lights of the West End.

Rik Shepherd has been a computer programmer and a web accessibility consultant. He lives in the north West of England and is mildly surprised to have just realised he's been reading crime fiction for 45 years.

Reviewed by Rik Shepherd, August 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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