An Elementary Introduction to E. C. R. Lorac Mysteries

E.C.R. Lorac was the principal pen-name of Edith Caroline Rivett, who was known to friend and family as Carol Rivett; her pseudonymous surname is Carol spelt backwards. She introduced Inspector MacDonald in The Murder on the Burrows (1931), and proceeded to investigate in no fewer than four dozen novels, the last published posthumously. She also wrote a long series featuring Chief Inspector Julian Rivers, under the name of Carol Carnac. A native Londoner, she was an accomplished author whose work deserves to be better known. Early Lorac titles include Murder in St John’s Wood and Murder in Chelsea, both published in 1934. The former novel, praised by the often severe American critics Barzun and Taylor, presents yet another example of that staple Golden Age situation, the murder of a financier. Dorothy L. Sayers lauded The Organ Speaks (1935), set in a music pavilion in Regent’s Park, as ‘entirely original, highly ingenious, and remarkable for atmospheric writing and convincing development of character’; the first edition boasted a ‘diagram of the console of the four-manual organ in the Waldstein Hall’. Lorac was elected to the Detection Club in the year Bats in the Belfry was published, and served as the Club’s Secretary. A teacher by profession, she developed a passion for the Lune Valley and the surrounding area in the north-west of England, which provides the backdrop to several of her later books. At the time of her death, she was working on a non-series mystery novel, while another late stand-alone novel, Two-Way Murder, has not yet been published. (Source: The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards)

Read more about Edith Caroline Rivett at The Passing Tramp.


I’m reading Bats in the Belfry by E. C. R. Lorac, first published in the U.K by Collins Crime Club in 1937.

Bats in the Belfry (1937) Bruce Attleton dazzled London’s literary scene with his first two novels –but his early promise did not bear fruit. His wife Sybilla is a glittering actress, unforgiving of Bruce’s failure, and the couple lead separate lives in their house at Regent’s Park. When Bruce is called away on a sudden trip to Paris, he vanishes completely until his suitcase and passport are found in a sinister artist’s studio, the Belfry, in a crumbling house in Notting Hill. Inspector Macdonald must uncover Bruce’s secrets, and find out the identity of his mysterious blackmailer. This intricate mystery from a classic writer is set in a superbly evoked London of the 1930s.

Other E. C. R. Lorac books, which are now easily available thanks to the British Library Crime Classics, include: Fell Murder (1944); Murder by Matchlight (1945); Fire in the Thatch (1946), and Murder in the Mill-Race (1952). So far I’ll have no shortage of E. C. R. Lorac titles for the next months. Stay tuned.

Meet Chief-Inspector French

In an Introduction written in 1935, Freeman Wills Crofts offers this insights about his Chief-Inspector Joseph French of the CID of New Scotland Yard which I hope will be of your interest.782988

He’s decent and he’s straight and he’s as kindly as his job will allow. He believes that if you treat people decently –you’ll be able to get more out of them; and he acts on his believe. Politeness is am obsession with him, and he has well earned his nickname of “Soapy Joe”. But I have to admit he’s not very brilliant: in fact many people call him dull. And here I’ll let you into secret history. Anyone about to perpetrate a detective novel must first decide whether his detective is to be brilliant and a “character”, or a mere ordinary humdrum personality . . . . I [Croft] . . . tried to make French a perfectly ordinary man, without particularities or mannerisms. Of course he has to have some qualities, but they were to be the ordinary qualities of ordinary fairly successful men. He has to have thoroughness and perseverance as well as a reasonable amount of intelligence: just the qualities which make for moderate success in any walk of life. 

From this it follows that he does not leap into his conclusions by brilliant intuition. He begins a case by going and looking into information in those places in which he thinks is most likely to be found. When he get the information he swots over it until he grinds out some sort of theory to account for the facts. Very often this turns out to be wrong, but if so, he simply tries again until he thinks of something better.

French I made an inspector of the Yard rather than a private detective because I hoped in this way to gain realism. But at once a horrible difficulty loomed up: I knew nothing about Scotland Yard or the C.I.D. What was to be done? The answer was simple. I built on the great rock which sustain so many in my profession: if I knew nothing of my subject, well, few of my readers will know any more.

As a matter of fact I found this rock not quite so steadfast as I had hoped. It has been pointed out to me that French has at times done things which would make a real inspector of the Yard shudder. He has consistently travelled first-class on railways, particularly in sleeping-cars. He has borrowed bicycles from local police-officers without paying for their hire. He has undertaken country inquires without his attendant sergeant. And many other evil things has he done. Fortunately, now that he has become chief-inspector he is seeing the error of at least some of his ways and being more careful to live up to his great traditions.  

French is a home bird, and nothing pleases him more than to get into his slippers before the fire and bury himself in some novel of sea adventure. He is married, but unlike Dr Watson he is the husband of only one wife. On occasion his Emily helps him with his cases. But this is only when he is more utterly stuck than usual. Otherwise he doesn’t think it decent –or perhaps worthwhile– to worry her with shop. I have been wondering whether he has children. It’s like a dream to me that in one book children were mentioned, and that in another their exitance was denied. But I can’t find either reference, I can only note the point as one to be avoided.

A child could guess that, Watson!”

947A lovely quote from Inspector French’s Greatest Case, by Freeman Wills Crofts.

‘When Mrs. French called her husband by the name of the companion of the great Holmes, it signified two things, first, than she was in what he always referred to as “a good twist,” and secondly, that she felt pleasantly superior, having seen something –which he has missed. He was therefore always delighted when a conversation reached this stage, believing that something helpful was about to materialise.’

My Book Notes: Inspector French’s Greatest Case, 1924 (Inspector French #1) by Freeman Wills Crofts

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

HarperCollinsPublishers, 2016. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 917 KB. Print Length: 306 pages. ASIN: B01GNSR27G. eISBN: 9780008190590. First published in Great Britain by Wm Collins Sons & C0. Ltd, 1924.

x298Book Description: At the offices of the Hatton Garden diamond merchant Duke and Peabody, the body of old Mr Gething is discovered beside a now-empty safe. With multiple suspects, the robbery and murder is clearly the work of a master criminal, and requires a master detective to solve it. Meticulous as ever, Inspector Joseph French of Scotland Yard embarks on an investigation that takes him from the streets of London to Holland, France and Spain, and finally to a ship bound for South America . . .

My Take: Inspector French’s Greatest Case is Freeman Wills Crofts fifth book, and this is the one in which Croft’s most famous detective makes his first public appearance. As from this novel Inspector French from Scotland Yard will feature again in all Croft’s mystery books published between 1924 and 1957. Initially the story seems to be relatively straightforward, but as the plot progress it becomes increasingly complicated. The novel revolves around a robbery with murder. The victim, old Mr Gething, turns out to be the head clerk of Duke and Peabody, a diamond merchant located at Hatton Garden in London who has been found dead next to the firm’s safe whose content has been burgled. The total loss amount some thirty-three thousand pounds among diamonds and some cash, and soon follows it has been an inside job. Inspector French shows up right away to take charge of the investigation and will have to travel to several European countries following false clues that will lead him nowhere. However, his perseverance and dedication will end up yielding the expected results.

I’ve found the plot quite entertaining and I’ve quite enjoyed it. However, despite the amount of false clues with which Inspector French has to deal with, the story isn’t overly complicated in my view. It has also quite a number of aspects that didn’t appear to me realistic, though I can accept them as credible, given the context and time in which the plot unfolds. In any case, any reader can easily figure out the solution to the mystery, once discarded the main suspect. Nonetheless, I found the story quite ingenious and clearly reflects Croft’s fondness for the railways and travels. The reader will feel himself transported to another era in which things were working differently. It might not be the best book in the series, and any interested reader won’t be wrong in following Curt Evans advice in Masters of the Humdrum Mystery: ‘Here I will look in greater depth at the eight French novels from this period that I think best illustrate the finer qualities in his detective fiction: Inspector French and The Starvel Hollow Tragedy (1927); Inspector French and  The Sea Mystery (1928); Inspector French and Sir John Magill’s Last Journey (1930); Mystery in the Channel a.k.a. Mystery in the English Channel (1931), The Hog’s Back Mystery a.k.a. The Strange Case of Dr. Earle (1933); Mystery on Southampton Water (1934); Crime at Guildford a.k.a. The Crime at Nornes (1935); and The Loss of the “Jane Vosper” (1936)’. 

My rating: B (I liked it)

About the Author: Freeman Wills Crofts (1879 – 1957), the son of a doctor in the British army, who died before he was born, was raised in Northern Ireland and became a civil engineer on the railways. His first book, The Cask, written in 1919 during a long illness, was published in the summer of 1920, immediately establishing him as a new master of detective fiction. Regularly outselling Agatha Christie, it was with his fifth book that Crofts introduced his iconic Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Joseph French, who would feature in no less than thirty books over the next three decades. He was a founder member of the Detection Club and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1939. Continually praised for his ingenious plotting an meticulous attention to detail –including the intricacies of railway timetables– Crofts was once dubbed ‘The King of Detective Story Writers’ and described by Raymond Chandler as ‘the soundest builder of them all’. (Source: HarperCollins).

Inspector French’s Greatest Case has been reviewed, among others, at The Invisible Event, Vintage Pop Fictions, gadetection, Classic Mysteries, and ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’.

HarperCollins UK publicity page

HarperCollins US publicity page


A Fondness for French Film: An Interview with Writer Brendan Foley about “Inspector French”–the New Freeman Wills Crofts Television Detective Series

Freeman Wills Crofts at The Grandest Game in the World


Freeman Wills Crofts – by Michael E. Grost

El mayor caso del inspector French, de Freeman Wills Crofts

Descripción del libro: En las oficinas del comerciante de diamantes de Hatton Garden, Duke and Peabody, se descubre el cuerpo del anciano Sr. Gething junto a una caja fuerte ahora vacía. Con múltiples sospechosos, el robo y el asesinato son claramente el trabajo de un experto criminal, y requieren de un experto detective para resolverlos. Meticuloso como siempre, el inspector Joseph French de Scotland Yard se embarca en una investigación que lo lleva desde las calles de Londres a Holanda, Francia y España, y finalmente a un barco con destino a Sudamérica. . .

Mi opinión: El caso más importante del inspector French es el quinto libro de Freeman Wills Crofts, y es en éste en el que el detective más famoso de Croft hace su primera aparición pública. A partir de esta novela, el inspector French de Scotland Yard aparecerá nuevamente en todos los libros de misterio de Croft publicados entre 1924 y 1957. Inicialmente, la historia parece ser relativamente sencilla, pero a medida que avanza la trama se vuelve cada vez más complicada. La novela gira en torno a un robo con asesinato. La víctima, el anciano señor Gething, resulta ser el principal empleado de Duke and Peabody, un comerciante de diamantes ubicado en Hatton Garden en Londres que ha sido encontrado muerto junto a la caja fuerte de la empresa cuyo contenido ha sido robado. La pérdida total asciende a unas treinta y tres mil libras entre diamantes y algo de efectivo, y pronto se deduce que ha sido un trabajo interno. El inspector French se presenta de inmediato para hacerse cargo de la investigación y tendrá que viajar a varios países europeos siguiendo pistas falsas que no lo llevarán a ninguna parte. Sin embargo, su perseverancia y dedicación terminarán produciendo los resultados esperados.

He encontrado que la trama es bastante entretenida y la he disfrutado bastante. Sin embargo, a pesar de la cantidad de pistas falsas con las que tiene que lidiar el inspector French, la historia no es demasiado complicada en mi opinión. También tiene una serie de aspectos que no me parecieron realistas, aunque puedo aceptarlos como creíbles, dado el contexto y el tiempo en que se desarrolla la trama. En cualquier caso, cualquier lector puede encontrar fácilmente la solución al misterio, una vez descartado el principal sospechoso. No obstante, la historia me pareció bastante ingeniosa y refleja claramente la afición de Croft por los ferrocarriles y los viajes. El lector se sentirá transportado a otra era en la que las cosas funcionaban de manera diferente. Puede que no sea el mejor libro de la serie, y cualquier lector interesado no se equivocará al seguir el consejo de Curt Evans en Masters of the Humdrum Mystery: “Aquí analizaré con mayor profundidad las ocho novelas de French en este período que considero mejor ilustran las principales cualidades de sus novelas policiacas: Inspector French and The Starvel Hollow Tragedy (1927); Inspector French and  The Sea Mystery (1928); Inspector French and Sir John Magill’s Last Journey (1930); Mystery in the Channel a.k.a. Mystery in the English Channel (1931), The Hog’s Back Mystery a.k.a. The Strange Case of Dr. Earle (1933); Mystery on Southampton Water (1934); Crime at Guildford a.k.a. The Crime at Nornes (1935); and The Loss of the “Jane Vosper” (1936)”.

Mi valoración: B (Me gustó)

Sobre el autor: Freeman Wills Crofts (1879 – 1957), hijo de un médico del ejército británico, que murió antes de que él naciera, se crió en Irlanda del Norte y se convirtió en ingeniero civil de ferrocarriles. Su primer libro, The Cask, escrito en 1919 durante una larga enfermedad, fue publicado en el verano de 1920, colocándole directamente como nuevo maestro de la ficción policial. Superando regularmente a Agatha Christie, fue con su quinto libro que Crofts dio a conocer a su emblemático detective de Scotland Yard, el inspector Joseph French, que aparecerá en no menos de treinta libros en las próximas tres décadas. Fue miembro fundador del Detection Club y fue elegido miembro de la Royal Society of Arts en 1939. Continuamente elogiado por sus ingeniosos argumentos y su atención meticulosa al detalle, incluidas las complejidades de los horarios de los ferrocarriles, Crofts fue apodado  “El Rey de los escritores de las novelas policiacas” y calificado por Raymond Chandler como “el más solvente constructor de todos”. (Fuente: HarperCollins).

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