I finished the well written and dramatic last few chapters of ‘Death of an Author’ by E C R Lorac today, and was so impressed with my first foray into reading the works of this Golden Age Crime fiction writer. Thanks to the British Library for the review copy.
‘Death of an Author’ centres around the mysterious disappearance of a crime fiction writer, Vivian Lestrange, author of the highly acclaimed mystery novel ‘The Charterhouse Case’. A total recluse, Vivian Lestrange has never been seen in public and keeps his identity under wraps in a small house in a quiet London neighbourhood. His housekeeper, Mrs Fife, and his loyal secretary Eleanor, are the only people who have seen him face to face.
When Lestrange’s publishers try to coerce him into meeting another famous contemporary author, Michael Ashe, a meeting is arranged at the publisher’s house and lo and behold, Lestrange is shown to be none other than Eleanor Clarke.
At first Michael Ashe and the publishers are astounded that the author of ‘The Charterhouse Case should be a woman, but Miss Clarke, carries herself with such aplomb and her conversation is so full of spark and intelligence, that the men are taken aback with her wit and vivacity.
When a few weeks later, Eleanor Clarke turns up at Scotland Yard with the news that her employer, Vivian Lestrange has disappeared overnight without a trace and she strongly suspects murder, the police are in a quandary about who to believe. Clarke, tells the story of how Vivian Lestrange actually convinced her to pose as the author himself and meet his publishers and Michael Ashe. But now that he and the housekeeper Mrs Fife have disappeared and there is a neat shaped bullet hole in the window of his study, she realises what a terrible predicament she is in.
The Scotland Yard detectives Bond and Warner are sceptical about whether Clarke is telling the truth, or even the supposed death of the fictitious author. And then when a body, charred beyond recognition is found in a burnt down cottage in the remote English countryside, with a pocketbook with Lestrange’s handwriting on the person, it would seem that there is an element of truth in the reported death of the author.
The story subsequently undergoes many twists and turns, there are many red herrings planted throughout the plot line. The case is baffling to say the least and the crux of the matter lies in the fact – should the detectives believe Eleanor Clarke’s narrative or not?
The plot is interesting in the fact that the story is not only about whodunnit but also about motives for the crime and how it was executed.
There weren’t too many characters in the story as to be too befuddling and the story opens out in a lucid, easy to read style which I found made the narrative flow quite nicely.
I found ECR Lorac’s writing to be quite lovely too. Her descriptions of the English countryside were quite poetic and had a distinct sense of place. The romance of the final chase through multiple trains, from London to Brighton and then to seaside towns, breathed all the romantic charm of vintage travel.
Now that the drama is all over, and I’ve put the story to rest, you can be sure that I will be looking out for more books by this author.
The book was sent to me by the publishers but as always, all opinions are my own.