I suppose it was inevitable that I would squeeze some Golden Age crime into #ReadIndies, especially as I believe British Library Publishing counts under our rules! I have a number of their books on the TBR, but my eye was caught by a recent arrival from the pen of E.C.R. Lorac – the intriguingly titled “Death of an Author“. Lorac’s a writer I’ve been so happy to discover via the various BL reprints, and her books have made a number of appearances here on the Ramblings (including a particular favourite under one of her other pseudonyms). She can always be relied on for a twisty plot, and so I was keen to see where she went with this particular title.

“Death of an Author” is an early Lorac, from 1935, and apparently has been one of her rarest titles, very hard to find nowadays; so kudos again to the BL for reprinting it. Interestingly, it doesn’t feature her usual series detective, Inspector Macdonald; instead, the sleuths are Chief Inspector Warner and Inspector Bond; and the mystery they have to investigate is certainly a testing one! The book opens with publisher Andrew Marriott meeting with one of his most successful authors, Michael Ashe; and after discussing literature, and the failings of the crime novel, they move on to the subject of Vivian Lestrange. The latter has written the hugely successful mystery novel, “The Charterhouse Case”, which is considered not only a brilliant crime novel but also a highly accomplished work of literature. However, Lestrange himself is a total mystery; a recluse, whom nobody ever sees nor knows anything about, he’s managed to elude all attempts to meet him. Ashe is desperate to do so, though the resulting encounter confuses all concerned.

However, three months later, things become even less clear; a young woman, Eleanor Clarke, walks into a police station and reports her employer Vivian Lestrange missing, along with his housekeeper. The police attend his house, but are not actually convinced there has ever been a murder; or, indeed, whether Vivian Lestrange has ever existed, since Clarke had previously attended the dinner party at the publishers to meet Ashe, claiming to be Lestrange herself. So Bond and Warner set to investigate a possible murder of a person who might or might not exist, with no evidence and no way to know if they can trust Eleanor herself. When I said Lorac was good at twisty, I wasn’t lying…

There’s so much to love about “Death…” and I found for me it succeeded on a number of levels. As a mystery it’s clever and tricky; the narrative keeps you wondering about who to believe, whether Eleanor is telling the truth, whether Lestrange actually existed, and if there even has been a murder. Warner and Bond take opposing points of view, and I tended to find myself agreeing with whichever of them was proposing a particularly clever solution – really, I think I’d be rubbish on a jury!

Then there’s the whole debate about the merits of crime writing, which are very entertainingly discussed; it does seem that the views of the time were that this kind of book was meant to be read and discarded, and indeed some are ephemeral. However, the best of GA crime writing can in my mind stand beside any other kind of literature; I would challenge anyone to dismiss Sayers, for example. Alongside this aspect, Lorac uses her work to put up a robust defence against those who criticised women’s writing, challenging readers to identify the sex of an author simple from the text. She allows Eleanor to strongly assert that modern women are having none of this nonsense and that one’s sex is irrelevant to the quality of one’s work – it’s very robust and refreshing to see her arguing like this!

Another fascinating element was watching Warner and Bond investigate, and recognising how different the world was in 1935; the between the wars period was a strange one, still close to the turn of the century and the First World War. The world was a bigger place, there were much vaguer records kept and it was quite easy for people to disappear, change their identity and have a background with little or no information about their past. We might think it’s easier to fake an identity nowadays – I guess it can certainly be so online – but in 1935 you could have an identity that went back a couple of years and then nothing. This element comes strongly into place as Bond and Warner continue to investigate, finding a body, digging back into the past and taking their investigation far away from London. It’s ingenious stuff and left me guessing right until the end, which I did enjoy.

Lorac has become a firm favourite for me via these BLCC releases, and “Death of an Author” didn’t disappoint; the narrative is clever and twisty, had me flummoxed in several places and not quite sure who to believe, with a very intriguing (and perhaps unexpected) ending. Shifting and mistaken identities are at the heart of the story and I think you’d have to have a very quick and sharp brain to work this one out before the finale! As always, the book comes with an interesting introduction from Martin Edwards which explores the subject of the author and her various identities when writing.

Golden Age Crime is always my go-to when I need a mental palate cleanser, a read I can rely on enjoying, and something that will be pure pleasure; with Lorac you get that as well as a truly satisfying and involving mystery. “Death of an Author” was a wonderful read, and I only hope the BL continue to reissue her books!