Thursday, March 10, 2011

Shroud of Darkness: Review

E. C. R. Lorac was one of two pseudonymns used by Edith Caroline Rivett. She also wrote under the name Carol Carnac. A British crime writer and member of the Detection Club, she was a very prolific writer--with 48 mysteries written as Lorac and 23 as Carnac. Her Lorac mysteries feature Chief Inspector Robert MacDonald who often is assisted by Detective Inspector Reeves among others.

Shroud of Darkness is one of my lucky finds at our local library's used/discarded bookstore. I love finding these vintage mysteries that have long been on my TBO (To Be Owned) List sitting innocently on the shelf, just waiting for me to pounce on them. Yes, I did say pounce. Literally. I realize that I might have more of these Golden Age gems in my possession if I went looking online for them a little more often. But there is nothing like the thrill of wandering into a used bookstore, scanning the shelves, and coming across a book that you've been lusting after for what seems like For Ever. Punching in the title in a little box on the computer and finding out that it's available from The X Mystery Bookshop on ABE books, just doesn't produce the same excitement--at least not for me.

This particular gem (and, gem, it is in every sense of the word) begins with a train ride through one of the worst fogs that England, and particularly London, has seen in "half a century." Riding in the same train car we have an upset young man, a psychiatrist's secrtary, a large female writer with a deep voice, a businessman who looks very stockbrokerish, and an "eel-like," unsavoury young man who looks a bit like a racing tout. At journey's end the agitated young man is left for dead in the black, "monster of a fog" and the police have one monster of a mystery on their hands. After being beaten sensless, the victim's pockets are rifled and his haversack stolen and the police find themselves faced with a nameless injured man on an evening of near solid blackout when nobody could be expected to notice anybody or anything.

Fortunately for them, the secretary and the businessman both prove to be very observant witnesses and Chief Inspector MacDonald identifies the young man fairly quickly. This seems to do nothing towards clearing up the mystery, though. For it seems that the young man is a bit of a mystery himself. During the choas of the early war years, he (at age 7-8) was found wandering on his own, injured and an amnesiac, after the bombing of a port town. A kindly farmer by the name of Greville and his wife took him in and, after no one claimed him, adopted him. Just prior to his near-fatal train journey, Richard Greville begins to regain his memory in flashes. And then he seems to recognize one of his fellow passengers.

MacDonald has to wonder where he will find the roots of the attack on Greville. Does it lie somewhere in his past and have anything to do with the memories that were surfacing? Is it tied to the man Greville recognized? There are many avenues that MacDonald has to follow and he and Detective Inspector Reeves do so in very methodical, very believable, and yet highly entertaining manner. The twists and turns of the plot follow one another logically even though I didn't see some of them coming. And I have to admit that I was just as much in the dark as those fog-bound train passengers right until the very end. I was certain I had figured it all out...only to find that I missed one final twist. Brilliantly plotted and well written, I sank into this book like a comfortable chair and didn't want to get up for a minute (unfortunately, there's this thing called work--and sleep). Five full stars.

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