My Book Notes: Accident by Design, 1950 (Robert MacDonald #34) by E. C. R. Lorac


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

Sold by Amazon Media EU S.à r.l. Published 14 June 2020- Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 957 KB. Print Length: 199 pages. ASIN: B08B6GPG3T. ISBN: N.A. First published in the UK for the Crime Club by Collins in London, 1950; and in the US for the Crime Club by Doubleday Doran & Co. in 1951.

515iED7NVvL._SX260_Synopsis: No one could call the Vansteads a happy family. Templedean Place has become a house divided among itself. The gracious, well-bred serenity of a fast vanishing mode of life typified by its master, the invalid Sir Charles, and his daughter Judith, clashed violently with the harsher and more realistic outlook of life which Judith’s brother Gerald and his Australian wife brought from the prison camp of Malaya. It was not a question of who was right and who was wrong: it was just a question of fundamental incompatibility, aggravated by the knowledge that on  Sir Charles’ death Templedean and its rich farms will go to Gerald, and Judith will be tolerated where she had reigned, or banished entirely. It was an atmosphere to breed tragedy, and when Gerald and his wife are killed in a car accident, Chief Inspector Macdonald has the uneasy feeling that it could have been accident by design. (Source: Classic Crime Fiction)

My Take: The story unfolds at Templedean Place, an aristocratic estate near the Cotswold Hills, where old ways and traditions are still preserved. For several generations it has belonged to the Vanstead family. When the story begins, the head of the family, Sir Charles Vanstead, is almost eighty, and both his daughter Judith and his surgeon have advised him to undergo another operation that, at best, could allow him to live one or two more years. The only one opposed to this idea is his son Gerald whom, at the request of his sister Judith, arrived from Australia a year ago along with his wife Meriel and their son Alan. Gerald, as the only living male child of Sir Charles, will inherit Templedean Place along with all its rich farmlands upon the death of his father but, in the meantime, Gerald hardly has any money of his own and depends entirely on the generosity of the rest of his family.

Sir Charles lost his two oldest sons during the war. They were both brilliant, extremely capable and hard-working people, just like their sister Judith. Gerald, however, was the opposite, useless in studies, inept in sports, and unable to socially relate. No one had thought that most of Gerald’s problems were due to fear of his own family. The fact was that Sir Charles let his youngest son go to Malaya where he was able to demonstrate his skills, learned the rubber business and bought his own plantation. He married Meriel and, for the first time in his life, he felt loved and admired. Life seemed perfect when his son was born in 1939 but upon the Japanese occupation of Malaya in 1943, Gerald and his family were sent to a concentration camp were they remained until the end of the war. It goes without saying Gerald lost the self-esteem he had regained and he is not yet fully recovered from this hard blow.

Now back in England in 1950, his position at Templedean Place doesn’t seem to help him. Everyone considers him a  stranger, no one shows him any kind of sympathy and Gerald himself does nothing to obtain their confidence and affection either. To compound matters, everyone is afraid of losing their job when he will become owner and lord of Templedean Place. But meanwhile, everyone mocks the accent and manners of his Australian wife, and the behaviour of his son Alan, an ill-mannered child, to put it mildly, doesn’t help at all. Besides, Gerald and his wife drink heavily and one day the inevitable happens, they lose their lives in a car accident. Shortly after, a family picnic ends in tragedy. Alan Vanstead is poisoned and dies after eating some poisonous berries. These accidents, at least in appearance, raises suspicions of foul play, given the number of people that will benefit. Chief Inspector Macdonald shows up to investigate what lies behind these tragic incidents.

Accident by Design is the fourth book featuring Chief Inspector Macdonald that I’ve read. In this outing, Inspector Macdonald seems to play a relative minor role in the story. In fact he makes his first appearance in the second half of the book. The story can be easily read and it turns out being interesting. At least it has not ceased to surprise me. It is both strange and curious to observe that although Rivett was a prolific author whose novels range for almost three decades, her books lost the publishers’ favour after her death, though she was a member of the prestigious Detection Club. It is true that most of her books were not entirely lost and became a cult item for collectors although at pretty high prices, partly due to its well-cared  editions. But fortunately, as of 2018 The British Library Crime Classics began to publish again several of her books, the most recent one, Checkmate to Murder: A Second World War Mystery (British Library Crime Classics Book 82), will go on sale on 10 August 2020 in both electronic and paper form. 

It was almost by chance when I came across the availability of this book. Someone, I can’t remember who, had mentioned in the Facebook group page Golden Age Detection that this one was one of her favourite Lorac’s books and it happened that it was available, only in Kindle Format, together with several others [Murderer’s Mistake; Murder in Vienna; Rope’s End, Rogue’s End; and Death Came Softly] at very attractive prices.  And I rushed to download all of them on my Kindle.  

The truth is that I feel very fortunate. I’ve very much enjoyed reading the Lorac’s books I have chosen so far, and this one has not been the exception. Nicely written and with a highly interesting plot, the psychological portrait of the characters is superb, and its pace is very much accomplished. The story provides us an overall vision, not exempt from criticism, to a form of life and of values, on the verge of disappearing. In a certain sense, the situation in which Sir Charles finds himself can be understand as a premonition of things to come.  All in all, the characterization is excellent and the atmosphere created outstanding. 

My rating: A (I loved it)

About the Author: Edith Caroline Rivett (1894 – 1958) (who wrote under the pseudonyms E. C. R. Lorac and Carol Carnac) was a British crime writer. Born in Hendon, Middlesex, (now London) on 6 May 1894, she attended the South Hampstead High School, and the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. Rivett was a member of the Detection Club. A very prolific author, she wrote forty-eight mysteries under her first pen name, and twenty-three under her second. An important author of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, she remained unmarried and lived her last years with her elder sister, Gladys Rivett (1891–1966), in Lonsdale, Lancashire. In her latter years, she wrote several mysteries feature Chief Inspector Macdonald with the Lune Valley, Lancashire, as its setting. Rivett died at the Caton Green Nursing Home, Caton-with-Littledale, near Lancaster. In 2018, the British Library included three novels by E.C.R. Lorac in its “British Library Crime Classics” series of re-issued works, including Fire in the Thatch, Bats in the Belfry, and Murder by Matchlight. The back cover of the re-issued, Fire in the Thatch: A Devon Mystery (originally published in 1946), declares that, “Her books have been almost entirely neglected since her death, but deserve rediscovery as fine examples of classic British crime fiction in its golden age.” (Source: Wikipedia)

There are twenty-three Carol Carnac books and forty-eight E. C. R. Lorac books, the first being The Murder on the Burrows, under the Lorac (Lorac is Carol spelled backwards) pseudonym, which was published by Sampson Law in 1931. It features her main series character, Chief Inspector  Robert Macdonald, ‘a London Scott’ and bachelor with a love for walking the English countryside. Macdonald had an assistant, Detective Inspector Reeves who appeared in twenty-eight of the forty-six Macdonald’s books. They were a formidable team, whilst diverse characters, as all good detective fiction partnerships have to be, they complemented each other well. All of the Lorac books were first published in London but, incredibly, twenty-four titles were not published in the USA. The first Carol Carnac book, Triple Death, was published by Thornton Butterworth in 1936 and featured Inspector Ryvet, the first of three series character under the Carnac name. Carnac’s other two main characters were Chief Inspector Julian Rivers of Scotland Yard, who appeared in fifteen books, and his assistant Inspector Lancing, who appeared in eighteen cases (four with Ryvet). The novels are all generally well plotted and set against attractive period backgrounds. The only real criticism, the perennial one with detective fiction, is lack of descriptive depth and colour to the main series character. (Source: Classic Crime Fiction)

9934

(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Collins The Crime Club (UK), 1950)

Bibliography as E. C. R. Lorac: The Murder on the Burrows (1931); The Affair on Thor’s Head (1932); The Greenwell Mystery (1932); The Case of Colonel Marchand (1933); Death on the Oxford Road (1933); Murder in St.John’s Wood (1934); Murder in Chelsea (1934); The Organ Speaks (1935); Death of an Author (1935); Crime Counter Crime (1936); Post after Post-Mortem (1936); A Pall for a Painter (1936); Bats in the Belfry (1937); These Names Make Clues (1937); The Devil and the C.I.D. (1938); Slippery Staircase (1938); John Brown’s Body (1939); Black Beadle (1939); Death at Dyke’s Corner (1940); Tryst for a Tragedy (1940); Case in the Clinic (1941); Rope’s End – Rogue’s End (1942); The Sixteenth Stair (1942); Death Came Softly (1943); Checkmate to Murder (1944); Fell Murder (1944); Murder by Matchlight (1945); Fire in the Thatch (1946); The Theft of the Iron Dogs (1946) vt Murderer’s Mistake (1947 US); Relative to Poison (1947); Death before Dinner (1948); Part for a Poisoner (1948); Still Waters (1949); Policemen in the Precinct (1949); Accident by Design (1950); Murder of a Martinet (1951); The Dog It Was That Died (1952); Murder in the Mill-Race (1952) (US title: “Speak Justly of the Dead” 1953); Crook O’Lune (1953) [US title: Shepherd’s Crook]; Shroud of Darkness (1954); Let Well Alone (1954); Ask a Policeman (1955); Murder in Vienna (1956); Picture of Death (1957); Dangerous Domicile (1957); Death in Triplicate (1958); Murder on a Monument (1958); and Dishonour among Thieves (U.S. title: The Last Escape) (1959). (Most of them featuring her main series character, Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald).

As Carol Carnac: Triple Death (1936); Murder at Mornington (1937); The Missing Rope (1937); When the Devil Was Sick (1939); The Case of the First Class Carriage (1939); Death in the Diving Pool (1940); A Double for Detection (1945); The Striped Suitcase (1946); Clue Sinister (1947); Over the Garden Wall (1948); Upstairs Downstairs (1950); Copy for Crime (1950); It’s Her Own Funeral (1951); Crossed Skis (1952); Murder as a Fine Art (1953); A Policeman at the Door (1953); Impact of Evidence (1954); Murder among Members (1955); Rigging the Evidence (1955); The Double Turn (1956); The Burning Question (1957); Long Shadows (1958) (U.S. title: Affair at Helen’s Court); and Death of a Lady Killer (1959).

Edith Caroline Rivett (1894-1958), aka ECR Lorac and Carol Carnac

Accident by Design, de E. C. R. Lorac

Sinopsis: Nadie podía considerar a los Vansteads una familia feliz. Templedean Place se ha convertido en una casa dividida. La amable y bien educada serenidad de un modo de vida que está desapareciendo, caracterizado por su dueño, el inválido Sir Charles y por su hija Judith, chocó violentamente con la actitud más dura y más realista ante la vida que el hermano de Judith, Gerald y su esposa australiana trajeron del campo de prisioneros de Malasia. No se trataba de quién tuviera razón y de quién estubiera equivocado: era solo una cuestión de incompatibilidad fundamental, agravada por el conocimiento de que, cuando Sir Charles muriera, Templedean y sus ricas granjas irán a Gerald, y Judith sería tolerada donde antes había reinado, o sería completamente desterrada. Era una atmósfera que engendra tragedia, y cuando Gerald y su mujer mueren en un accidente de automovil, el Inspector Jefe Macdonald tiene la incómoda sensación de que podría haber sido un accidente a propósito. (Fuente: Classic Crime Fiction)

Mi opinión: La historia se desarrolla en Templedean Place, una finca aristocrática cerca de las colinas de Cotswold, donde aún se conservan las viejas costumbres y tradiciones. Durante varias generaciones ha pertenecido a la familia Vanstead. Cuando comienza la historia, el jefe de la familia, Sir Charles Vanstead, tiene casi ochenta años, y tanto su hija Judith como su cirujano le han aconsejado que se someta a otra operación que, en el mejor de los casos, podría permitirle vivir uno o dos años más. El único opuesto a esta idea es su hijo Gerald, quien, a petición de su hermana, llegó de Australia hace un año junto con su esposa Meriel y su hijo Alan. Gerald, como  único hijo varón vivo de Sir Charles, heredará Templedean Place junto con todas sus ricas tierras agrícolas tras la muerte de su padre, pero, mientras tanto, Gerald apenas tiene dinero propio y depende por completo de la generosidad de su familia.

Sir Charles perdió a sus dos hijos mayores durante la guerra. Ambos eran personas brillantes, extremadamente capaces y trabajadoras, al igual que su hermana Judith. Gerald, por su parte, era todo lo contrario, inútil en los estudios, inepto en los deportes e incapaz de relacionarse socialmente. Nadie había pensado que la mayoría de los problemas de Gerald se debían al miedo a su propia familia. El hecho fue que Sir Charles dejó que su hijo menor fuera a Malasia, donde pudo demostrar sus habilidades, aprendió el negocio del caucho y compró su propia plantación. Se casó con Meriel y, por primera vez en su vida, se sintió amado y admirado. La vida parecía perfecta cuando su hijo nació en 1939, pero tras la ocupación japonesa de Malasia en 1943, Gerald y su familia fueron enviados a un campo de concentración donde permanecieron hasta el final de la guerra. No hace falta decir que Gerald perdió la autoestima que había recuperado y aún no está completamente recuperado de este duro golpe.

Ahora de regreso en Inglaterra en 1950, su posición en Templedean Place no parece ayudarlo. Todos lo consideran un extraño, nadie le muestra ningún tipo de simpatía y el propio Gerald tampoco hace nada para ganar su confianza y afecto. Para complicar las cosas, todos temen perder su trabajo cuando se convierta en dueño y señor de Templedean Place. Pero mientras tanto, todos se burlan del acento y los modales de su esposa australiana, y el comportamiento de su hijo Alan, un niño mal educado, por decirlo suavemente, no ayuda en absoluto. Además, Gerald y su esposa beben mucho y un día sucede lo inevitable, pierden la vida en un accidente automovilístico. Poco después, un picnic familiar termina en tragedia. Alan Vanstead es envenenado y muere después de comer algunas bayas venenosas. Estos accidentes, al menos en apariencia, levantan sospechas de juego sucio, dada la cantidad de personas que se beneficiarán. El inspector jefe Macdonald aparece para investigar qué hay detrás de estos trágicos incidentes.

Accident by Desing (que podría significar tanto accidente a medida como accidente intencionado) es el cuarto libro protagonizado por el inspector jefe Macdonald que he leído. En esta nueva entrega, el inspector Macdonald parece desempeñar un papel relativamente menor en la historia. De hecho, hace su primera aparición en la segunda mitad del libro. La historia se puede leer fácilmente y resulta interesante. Al menos no ha dejado de sorprenderme. Es extraño y curioso observar que, aunque Rivett fue una autora prolífica cuyas novelas abarcaron casi tres décadas, sus libros perdieron el favor de los editores después de su muerte, aunque era miembro del prestigioso Detection Club. Es cierto que la mayoría de sus libros no se perdieron por completo y se convirtieron en objeto de culto para los coleccionistas, aunque a precios bastante altos, en parte debido a sus muy cuidadas ediciones. Pero afortunadamente, a partir de 2018, The British Library Crime Classics comenzó a publicar nuevamente varios de sus libros, el más reciente, Checkmate to Murder: A Second World War Mystery (British Library Crime Classics Book 82), saldrá a la venta el 10 de agosto 2020 en formato electrónico y en papel.

Fue casi por casualidad cuando me encontré con la disponibilidad de este libro. Alguien, no recuerdo quién, había mencionado en la página del grupo de Facebook Golden Age Detection que este era uno de sus libros favoritos de Lorac y sucedió que estaba disponible, solo en formato Kindle, junto con varios otros [Murderer’s Mistake; Murder in Vienna; Rope’s End, Rogue’s End; y Death Came Softly] a precios muy atractivos. Y me apresuré a descargarlos todos en mi Kindle.

La verdad es que me siento muy afortunado. Me ha encantado leer los libros de Lorac que he elegido hasta ahora, y este no ha sido la excepción. Bien escrito y con una trama muy interesante, el retrato psicológico de los personajes es excelente, y su ritmo está muy logrado. La historia nos proporciona una visión general, no exenta de críticas, a una forma de vida y de valores, a punto de desaparecer. En cierto sentido, la situación en la que Sir Charles se encuentra puede entenderse como una premonición de lo que vendrá. En general, la caracterización es excelente y el ambiente creado excepcional.

Mi valoración: A (Me encantó)

Sobre el autor: Edith Caroline Rivett (1894 – 1958), que escribió con los seudónimos de E. C. R. Lorac y Carol Carnac, fue una escritora británica de misterio. Nació en Hendon, Middlesex, (actualmente parte de Londres) el 6 de mayo de 1894, se educó en la South Hampstead High School y en la Central School of Arts and Crafts de Londres. Rivett fue miembro del Detection Club. Una escritora muy prolífica, con un total de cuarenta y ocho obras de misterio bajo su primer seudónimo, y otras veintitrés con el segundo. Fue uno de los autores más importantes de la edad dorada del género. Permaneció soltera y vivió sus últimos años con su hermana mayor, Gladys Rivett (1891-1966), en Lonsdale, Lancashire. En sus últimos años, escribió varios misterios protagonizados por el inspector jefe Macdonald ambientadas en el Lune Valley, Lancashire. Rivett murió en Caton Green Nursing Home, Caton-with-Littledale, cerca de Lancaster. En el 2018, la British Library incluyó tres novelas de E.C.R. Lorac en su serie “British Library Crime Classics” de obras reeditadas, incluidas Fire in the Thatch, Bats in the Belfry y Murder by Matchlight. La contraportada de la reeditada Fire in the Thatch: A Devon Mystery (publicada originalmente en 1946), afirma que “tras su muerte, sus libros fueron descuidados casi por completo, pero merecen ser redescubiertos como buenos ejemplos de la clásica novela policiaca británica en su edad dorada. (Fuente: Wikipedia)

Escribió veintitrés libros como Carol Carnac y cuarenta y ocho libros como ECR Lorac, The Murder on the Burrows, el primero bajo el seudónimo Lorac (Lorac is Carol deletreado al revés), fue publicado por Sampson Law en 1931. En el nos presenta al principal personaje de su serie, el Inspector Jefe Robert Macdonald, ‘un escocés de Londres’ soltero y aficionado a pasear por el campo inglés. Macdonald tiene un ayudante, el Inspector Detective Reeves, que aparece en veintiocho de los cuarenta y seis libros protagonizados por Macdonald. Forman un equipo formidable, aunque de características opuestas, como deben ser todas las buenas parejas de ficción, se complementan bien. Todos los libros de Lorac se publicaron por primera vez en Londres, pero, increíblemente, veinticuatro títulos no se publicaron en los Estados Unidos. El primer libro de Carol Carnac, Triple Death, fue publicado por Thornton Butterworth en 1936 y contó con el inspector Ryvet, el primero de los tres personajes principales que aparecen en los libros publicados con el seudónimo de Carnac. Los otros dos son el Inspector Jefe Julian Rivers, de Scotland Yard, que aparece en quince libros, y su asistente, el inspector Lancing, que aparece en dieciocho casos (cuatro de ellos con Ryvet). Las novelas generalmente están bien estructuradas y se insertan en un atractivo marco histórico. El único auténtico reproche que se le puede  hacer, perenne en todas las novelas policiacas, es la ausencia de color y profundidad descriptiva del protagonista de la serie. (Fuente: Classic Crime Fiction)

Bibliografía como E. C. R. Lorac: The Murder on the Burrows (1931); The Affair on Thor’s Head (1932); The Greenwell Mystery (1932); The Case of Colonel Marchand (1933); Death on the Oxford Road (1933); Murder in St.John’s Wood (1934); Murder in Chelsea (1934); The Organ Speaks (1935); Death of an Author (1935); Crime Counter Crime (1936); Post after Post-Mortem (1936); A Pall for a Painter (1936); Bats in the Belfry (1937); These Names Make Clues (1937); The Devil and the C.I.D. (1938); Slippery Staircase (1938); John Brown’s Body (1939); Black Beadle [La sombra del sacristán] (1939); Death at Dyke’s Corner (1940); Tryst for a Tragedy (1940); Case in the Clinic (1941); Rope’s End – Rogue’s End (1942); The Sixteenth Stair (1942); Death Came Softly (1943); Checkmate to Murder [Jaque mate al asesino] (1944); Fell Murder (1944); Murder by Matchlight (1945); Fire in the Thatch (1946); The Theft of the Iron Dogs (1946) vt Murderer’s Mistake (1947 US); Relative to Poison (1947); Death before Dinner [La muerte antes de comer]  (1948); Part for a Poisoner (1948); Still Waters (1949); Policemen in the Precinct (1949); Accident by Design (1950); Murder of a Martinet (1951); The Dog It Was That Died [Y el perro fue el que murió] (1952); Murder in the Mill-Race (1952) (US title: “Speak Justly of the Dead” 1953); Crook O’Lune (1953) [US title: Shepherd’s Crook]; Shroud of Darkness (1954); Let Well Alone (1954); Ask a Policeman (1955); Murder in Vienna (1956); Picture of Death (1957); Dangerous Domicile (1957); Death in Triplicate [Muerte por triplicado] (1958); Murder on a Monument (1958); and Dishonour among Thieves (U.S. title: The Last Escape) (1959). (La mayoría de ellas prtotagonizadas por el inspector jefe Robert Macdonald, el personaje principal de la serie).

Como Carol Carnac: Triple Death (1936); Murder at Mornington (1937); The Missing Rope (1937); When the Devil Was Sick (1939); The Case of the First Class Carriage (1939); Death in the Diving Pool (1940); A Double for Detection (1945); The Striped Suitcase (1946); Clue Sinister (1947); Over the Garden Wall (1948); Upstairs Downstairs (1950); Copy for Crime (1950); It’s Her Own Funeral (1951); Crossed Skis (1952); Murder as a Fine Art (1953); A Policeman at the Door (1953); Impact of Evidence (1954); Murder among Members (1955); Rigging the Evidence (1955); The Double Turn (1956); The Burning Question (1957); Long Shadows (1958) (U.S. title: Affair at Helen’s Court); and Death of a Lady Killer (1959).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.