After a slightly uninspiring experience with the Sciascia, I thought I might head to safer ground and pick up a British Library Crime Classic – I find you really can’t go wrong with them! 😀 The title in question is “These Names Make Clues” by E.C.R. Lorac whose been, as far as I’m concerned, one of the great successes of the BL reprints. I’ve read a number of her titles, including one under the name of Carol Carnac, and they’ve been marvellous. “These Names…” is a slightly unusual title, however; first published in 1937, it’s been out of print since and as Martin Edwards points out in his introduction, copies seem unavailable anywhere and there’s no critical commentary on the book. Thank goodness for the BL and its deposits, then….

The Loracs I’ve read have been mainly set in WW2 or post-war; however, this particular mystery is set earlier and is much more traditional than her other books. Graham Coombe, a celebrated publisher, is hosting a treasure hunt party, to which he invites a number of novelists and thriller writers in disguise. Also invited is Chief Inspector Macdonald, Lorac’s regular sleuth, and despite misgivings the detective attends. Each guest has taken on the persona of a real author, and the Chief Inspector is posing as Izaak Walton. Also present are Jane Austen, Fanny Burney, Laurence Sterne and Pepys, plus other authors perhaps less well known to modern readers, like Thomas Traherne. The hunt gets underway and is going well, until suddenly all the electricity in the house goes off. After much fumbling and fixing of fuses, it transpires that one of the guests has died. Initial suspicions are of a heart attack, as he’s known to have been in poor health; but Macdonald’s sharp eyes spot that something is wrong, and it’s soon clear that this is murder.

However, this is not going to be an easy case to investigate. Apart from the fact that the guests were all impersonating other writers, many of them are hiding behind authorial pseudonyms, and even knowing quite who is who is difficult for Macdonald. The motive for the killing is hard to fathom, too, and then another body is discovered elsewhere, but which has connections to the first victim. The method of murder is like something out of one of the guests’ murder books, and Macdonald struggles to find connections and threads to pull the solution together…

Lorac is always a wonderfully entertaining author to read, and “These Names…” was no exception; in fact, it was a particular delight to see her spoofing the literary world, with the publishers, agents and authors all coming in for a little barbed commentary. There was a lovely reference to a block of service flats for women which reminded me of the modernist Isokon building which featured in “Circles and Squares” and anchored the book firmly in the 1930s. The women characters were wonderfully drawn too, particularly Coombe’s sister Susan, who has strongly feminist views.

The murder itself was ingenious (I shall say no more) and quite in line with the world of the time. The pseudonyms, the hidden identities and the rather unexpected solution were fun; although, as Martin Edwards says in his introduction, she doesn’t quite play fair with the reader in the way that members of the Detection Club did in those days. Some of the elements seem to develop quite late in the plot in a way that meant I didn’t quite foresee what was coming. That’s not really a problem, to be honest, because I rarely work out whodunnit and this one was certainly a twisty mystery! As Ali has commented, the book perhaps has a little less atmosphere than some of her works – in other books I’ve read, her sense of place and portrayal of setting have been vivid – but the book is still a diverting and very satisfying read. Lorac was an astonishingly prolific writer, as a quick glance at her Wikipedia page reveals, and it’s just wonderful that British Library Publishing are reprinting her books. No, you really *can’t* go wrong with Golden Age Crime!