Death of an Author by E.C.R. Lorac – #ReadIndies

E.C.R. Lorac’s Death of an Author, first published in 1935, begins with the novelist Michael Ashe persuading his publisher to arrange a dinner party so that he can meet another of their authors, the crime writer Vivian Lestrange. Despite being famously secretive and reclusive, Lestrange accepts the invitation – but to Ashe’s surprise, a young woman arrives at the party rather than the man he had expected. Vivian, of course, could be either a man’s name or a woman’s, and Lestrange seems amused by Ashe’s assumptions. She engages Ashe in a debate on gender equality and whether it’s possible to tell a man’s writing from a woman’s – and naturally, she comes out of the argument on top.

Three months later, the same young woman approaches the police to report a crime and introduces herself as Eleanor Clarke, secretary to the author Vivian Lestrange. She admits that Lestrange really is a man, although she has impersonated him at parties a few times for fun. Her reason for contacting the police is that Mr Lestrange has disappeared along with his housekeeper, Mrs Fife, and Eleanor is unable to gain entry to his house, her place of work. She is concerned about him and wants the police to investigate. Inspector Bond, however, is convinced that Eleanor herself is Vivian Lestrange and that some sort of deception is taking place. His Scotland Yard colleague, Inspector Warner, on the other hand, believes what Eleanor has told them and accepts that she and Lestrange are two separate people. But which of them is correct – and if Eleanor is telling the truth, what has happened to the real Vivian Lestrange?

This is the first book I’ve read by Lorac, although I’ve been intending to try one for a long time as I know she’s one of the most popular authors in the British Library Crime Classics series. It was maybe not the best one to start with (it has just been reprinted in January, and I would imagine the British Library have been publishing her stronger books first), but I found it enjoyable enough, with one or two reservations. It certainly has a fascinating plot, with the police trying to investigate a crime without being sure who the victim is or even whether a crime has been committed at all. It was interesting to watch the two detectives, Warner and Bond, working together to come up with different possible scenarios and trying to decide which was the most likely.

As an author who wrote under her initials (her real name was Edith Caroline Rivett) and other pseudonyms including Carol Carnac (Lorac is Carol backwards), the arguments Eleanor Clarke makes to defend women’s writing and to refute the assumption that only men could write a certain kind of book must have been close to Lorac’s own heart. And yet, the way the story develops after this seems to contradict some of the points that were being made at the beginning and I was left feeling slightly confused as to what Lorac was actually trying to say.

Although I couldn’t quite manage to love this one, it was still an entertaining read and I’m sure I’ll try more of Lorac’s books. I know some of you have read a lot of them, so I would like to hear which ones you would recommend!

I’m counting this towards #ReadIndies, a month celebrating books from independent publishers hosted by Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy’s Literary Life.

19 thoughts on “Death of an Author by E.C.R. Lorac – #ReadIndies

    • Helen says:

      I did like this one, but I’ve read so many glowing reviews of Lorac’s books I was probably just expecting too much from it. Hopefully Murder in the Mill Race is a better one.

      I’ll come over and see your review of Pompeii soon – thanks for the link!

  1. Calmgrove says:

    Hmm, I was only just eyeing this very title in Bristol’s Waterstones this afternoon, though I settled for a Tove Jansson instead – possibly a good decision given your lukewarm view of it! But Kaggsy likes it so now I’m conflicted…😮

    • Helen says:

      I found more to like than dislike and I don’t think you would have been disappointed if you’d bought it, but I suspect it’s probably not one of Lorac’s strongest books.

  2. Julé Cunningham says:

    Death of an Author hasn’t yet been published in the U.S., but I’m looking forward to picking it up. Two of the Lorac books I’d recommend that feature Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald who appears regularly, are Murder by Matchlight and Fire in the Thatch. The book BLCC published under her Carnac name, Crossed Skis, is also excellent.

    • Helen says:

      I hope you don’t have to wait long for this one to become available in the US. I’ll look out for the books you mentioned – BLCC have published so many Lorac novels now, it’s difficult to decide which one to try next, so thanks for the suggestions!

  3. Lark says:

    My library has several other books by her, but not this one. I want to read some more BLCC novels this year, so I might try one of her other books and see if it’s better than this one.

    • Helen says:

      A lot of Lorac’s books have been brought back into print recently, so there are plenty to choose from. This one wasn’t the best choice, but I did find it interesting overall.

  4. FictionFan says:

    I really enjoyed this one, but I think that’s because I’m now a dedicated Lorac fan. I do agree it’s probably not the best one to read first. There are loads in her Inspector MacDonald series I’ve thoroughly enjoyed – Murder By Matchlight and Fire in the Thatch are two that I would recommend. The first one is a London setting while the second one is rural, both settings she does extremely well.

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