My Book Notes: Murder by Matchlight, 1945 (Robert MacDonald #26) by E. C. R. Lorac


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British Library Publishing, 2018. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 3266 KB. Print Length: 264pages. ASIN: B07HY1SNT9. eISBN: 978-0-7123-6464-5. Originally published in 1945 by Collins, London. With and Introduction by Martin Edwards, 2018.

51jovyqG4NLBook Description: On a damp November evening in wartime London, a young chemist sits on a bench in Regent’s Park and watches as an approaching stranger suddenly disappears beneath a footbridge. Seconds later another figure appears on the same overpass, stops to smoke and discard a cigarette, and strikes a match that briefly illuminates a face beyond his own. Through the succeeding darkness come the sounds of a thud and a falling body — then silence. Thus begins this chilling mystery from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction by Edith Caroline Rivett, author of more than seventy books written under the pseudonyms of E. C. R. Lorac and Carol Carnac. Murder by Matchlight features Scotland Yard’s imperturbable Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald, who is tasked with finding the killer of the man on the bridge. His only evidence: a set of bicycle tracks that come to an abrupt end. His suspects: a colorful cast that includes the shy, soft-spoken witness, a respected London physician, a screenwriter, an unemployed laborer, and a vaudevillian specializing in illusions — a lively group whose questionable activities will keep readers guessing until the final twist and turn of this deftly plotted whodunit. (Source: Goodreads)

My Take: Murder by Matchlight is set in wartime London. During a blackout, two men witness a murder at Regent’s Park. Bruce Mallaig, one of the witnesses, saw the victim lighting a cigarette while standing near a footbridge. During the moment when the matchlight illuminated the face of the victim, he was able to see briefly the face of the murderer. When the light got off, he heard a thud followed by the sound of a body falling. Initially the police were quite sceptical about the versions of the witnesses, but they are accepted at face value, since they do not contradict each other. The victim, according to his identity card, was identified as John Ward and the case was immediately handed over to Chief Inspector Macdonald for investigation. The most surprising thing about this whole affair is that it is soon discovered that John Ward is a false identity, which will undoubtedly make the investigation of the case very much difficult.

There are many good things to say about this more than interesting novel that has a magnificent start. A murder committed in front of two witnesses that can be considered an impossible crime, since none of them heard the footsteps that would have betrayed the presence of the murderer. Moreover, the story fits perfectly well in the setting and age in which it unfolds, and it couldn’t have happened outside similar circumstances. The plot is nicely structured and captures the reader’s attention. There is no shortage of suspects, though the reasons for the crime  not always turn out being evident and I also enjoyed the excellent description of the characters, with the only exception of Chief Inspector Macdonald whose characterisation is a very poor one in my view. Though startling, I did not find very convincing the denouement and, maybe, there’s an excessive taste for the detail all along the story that can turn out a bit boring occasionally. Anyhow, it was a highly entertaining read. 

Murder by Matchlight has been reviewed, among others, at Past Offences, ‘Do Yoy Write Under Your Own Name?’, FictionFan’s Book Reviews, Cross-Examining Crime, Northern Reader, Classic Mysteries, The Invisible Event, Bedford Bookshelf, and Books Please.

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 on 2 July 1958. 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.”

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)

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Collins The Crime Club (UK), 1945)

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 (U.S. title: I Could Murder Her) (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); Dishonour among Thieves (U.S. title: The Last Escape) (1959); and Two-Way Murder (2021) previously unpublished probably written in 1957-58. (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).

British Library publicity page

Poisoned Pen Press publicity page

Audible

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

Murder by matchlight de E. C. R. Lorac

Descripción del libro: Una húmeda noche de noviembre en el Londres de la época de la guerra, un joven químico se sienta en un banco en Regent’s Park y observa cómo un extraño que se acerca desaparece repentinamente debajo de la pasarela de un puente peatonal. Segundos después aparece otro persoanje en la misma pasarela, se detiene a fumar, tira de un cigarrillo y enciende una cerilla que ilumina brevemente un rostro más allá del suyo. A través de la oscuridad subsiguiente llegan los sonidos de un ruido sordo y un cuerpo que cae, luego se hace el silencio. Así comienza este escalofriante misterio de la Edad de Oro de la ficción policíaca de Edith Caroline Rivett, autora de más de setenta libros escritos bajo los seudónimos de ECR Lorac y Carol Carnac. Murder by Matchlight protagonizada por el imperturbable inspector jefe de Scotland Yard, Robert Macdonald, quien tiene la tarea de encontrar al asesino del hombre del puente. Sus únicas pruebas: el conjunto de huellas de bicicleta que acaban abruptamente. Sus sospechosos: un reparto pintoresco que incluye a un testigo tímido y de voz suave, un médico respetado de Londres, un guionista, un trabajador desempleado y un artista de variedades especializado en ilusiones, un grupo animado cuyas actividades discutibles van a mantener al lector intentando adivinar hasta el último giro de esta bien tramada novela policíaca. (Fuente: Goodreads)

Mi opinión: Murder by Matchlight está ambientada en el Londres de la guerra. Durante un apagón, dos hombres son testigos de un asesinato en Regent’s Park. Bruce Mallaig, uno de los testigos, vio a la víctima encendiendo un cigarrillo mientras estaba de pie cerca de una pasarela. Durante el momento en que la luz de la cerilla iluminó el rostro de la víctima, éste pudo ver brevemente el rostro del asesino. Cuando se apagó la luz, escuchó un ruido sordo seguido del sonido de un cuerpo cayendo. Inicialmente la policía se mostró bastante escéptica sobre las versiones de los testigos, pero se aceptan al pie de la letra, ya que no se contradicen entre sí. La víctima, según su cédula de identidad, fue identificada como John Ward y el caso fue entregado inmediatamente al inspector jefe Macdonald para que lo investigara. Lo más sorprendente de todo este asunto es que pronto se descubre que John Ward es una identidad falsa, lo que sin duda dificultará mucho la investigación del caso.

Hay muchas cosas buenas que decir sobre esta novela más que interesante que tiene un comienzo magnífico. Un asesinato cometido frente a dos testigos que puede considerarse un crimen imposible, ya que ninguno de ellos escuchó los pasos que habrían delatado la presencia del asesino. Además, la historia encaja perfectamente en el escenario y la época en la que se desarrolla, y no podría haber sucedido fuera de circunstancias similares. La trama está muy bien estructurada y capta la atención del lector. No faltan los sospechosos, aunque los motivos del crimen no siempre resultan evidentes y también disfruté de la excelente descripción de los personajes, con la única excepción del inspector jefe Macdonald, cuya caracterización es muy pobre en mi opinión. Aunque sorprendente, no encontré muy convincente el desenlace y, tal vez, hay un gusto excesivo por los detalles a lo largo de la historia que puede resultar un poco aburrido ocasionalmente. De todos modos, fue una lectura muy entretenida.

Acerca del autor: Edith Caroline Rivett (1894-1958) (que escribió bajo los seudónimos de E.C.R. Lorac y Carol Carnac) fue una escritora policíaca británica. Nacida en Hendon, Middlesex (ahora Londres) el 6 de mayo de 1894, asistió a la South Hampstead High School y a la Central School of Arts and Crafts en Londres. Rivett fue miembro del Detection Club. Autora muy prolífica, escribió cuarenta y ocho misterios con su primer seudónimo y veintitrés con el segundo. Autora importante de la Edad de Oro de la ficción policíaca, 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 en el marco de Lune Valley, Lancashire. Rivett murió en el Caton Green Nursing Home, Caton-with-Littledale, cerca de Lancaster el 2 de julio de 1958. En el 2018, la Biblioteca Británica incluyó tres novelas de E.C.R. Lorac en su serie de obras reeditadas “British Library Crime Classics”, que incluyen Fire in the Thatch, Bats in the Belfry y Murder by Matchlight. La contraportada del reeditado, Fire in the Thatch: A Devon Mystery (publicado originalmente en 1946), dice: “sus libros han sido casi completamente olvidados a partir de su muerte, pero merecen ser redescubiertos como buenos ejemplos de la ficción policíaca británica clásica en su edad de oro”.

Hay veintitrés libros de Carol Carnac y cuarenta y ocho libros de ECR Lorac, el primero es The Murder on the Burrows, bajo el seudónimo de Lorac (Lorac es Carol escrito al revés), que fue publicado por Sampson Law en 1931. Presenta su principal personaje de la serie, el inspector jefe Robert Macdonald, ‘un London Scott’ y soltero al que le encanta caminar por la campiña inglesa. Macdonald tenía un ayudante, el inspector detective Reeves, que aparece en veintiocho de los cuarenta y seis libros de Macdonald. Eran un equipo formidable, aunque con distinta personalidad, como deben ser todas las buenas asociaciones de detectives literarios, se complementaban bien entre sí. Todos los libros de Lorac se publicaron por primera vez en Londres pero, increíblemente, veinticuatro títulos no se publicaron en 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 tres personajes de la serie bajo el nombre de Carnac. Los otros dos personajes principales de Carnac fueron el inspector jefe Julian Rivers de Scotland Yard, que apareció en quince libros, y su ayudante, el inspector Lancing, que apareció en dieciocho casos (cuatro con Ryvet). En general, las novelas están bien tramadas y en el marco de un período de tiempo interesante. La única crítica real, la perenne en la literatura policíaca, es la falta de profundidad cromática y descriptiva del personaje principal de la serie. (Fuente: Classic Crime Fiction)

3 thoughts on “My Book Notes: Murder by Matchlight, 1945 (Robert MacDonald #26) by E. C. R. Lorac”

  1. Thanks for the link! I’m glad you enjoyed it – I don’t think Inspector MacDonald is as memorable as some of the Golden Age detectives, but Lorac is so good at her settings, especially the war-time ones.

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