Published by British Library
Publication date – 10 August 2020
Source – review copy
On a dismally foggy night in Hampstead, London, a curious party has gathered in an artist’s studio to weather the wartime blackout. A civil servant and a government scientist are matching wits in a game of chess, while an artist paints the portrait of his characterful sitter, bedecked in Cardinal’s robes at the other end of the room. In the kitchen, the artist’s sister is hosting the charlady of the miser next door.
When the brutal murder of said miser is discovered by his Canadian infantryman nephew, it’s not long before Inspector Macdonald of Scotland Yard is at the scene, faced with perplexing alibis and with the fate of the young soldier in his hands.
Five friends gather in a London studio on a dark and foggy night. Black out blinds cover the window. There’s a knock at the door and a special constable drags in a hobbling soldier. He’s accused of murdering his uncle, who lives next door. He denies it and Inspector Macdonald of Scotland Yard has to unravel the clues to find out who murdered the miser next door.
I picked this up as I was in the mood for a wartime murder mystery, a closed room murder with a limited but ecclectic cast of suspects. And that’s just what I got with Checkmate to Murder.
There is a sparseness to the story, but not one that is to its detriment. There is not much of a back story with Macdonald, though the reader can see he is methodical in his thinking and practical with it. There is some gentle humour and bantering with his colleagues, but he is not a man to rush into judgments and he takes his time looking at all avenues.
One of the most fascinating parts of the book was the everyday lives people had, whilst being under constant threat of bombings and war. There is reference to rationing, blackouts and misguided bomb trenches. There is also a great sense of place. I could easily imagine the studio where the cast were gathered, I could see the fog, thick enough to choke, and the pedestrians emerging from the gloom. The characters were clear images in my head, from the main five, to the neighbour, complaining about people climbing over her wall.
The mystery itself starts almost immediately, with the knock on the door coming almost immediately. It’s not convoluted. An elderly man has been murdered. The reason why soon becomes obvious. Macdonald has to just decide if the who is just as obvious. There are little red herrings dotted about but the reader can follow the trail as Macdonald does, until they both, hopefully, arrive at the same conclusion.
I’ve not read any other Inspector Macdonald books before but thankfully the British Library are reissuing ECR Lorac’s back catalogue, and there are many more to discover.
This book would be perfect to curl up with on a dark night. A thoroughly enjoyable foray into 1940s crime.
I am so pleased I discovered this Crime Classics series. So many forgotten golden age crime novelists waiting to be discovered. Bliss.