Bats in the Belfry (1937) by E. C. R. Lorac (Edith Caroline Rivett)
The thirteenth entry in Lorac's Inspector Robert MacDonald series finds the Scotsman investigating the disappearance of two men: Bruce Attleson and a mysterious man by the name of Debrette. Attleson wowed the literary world with his first two novels, but his muse seems to have left him. Meanwhile, his wife Sybilla has been lighting up the London stage. She would like to leave him as well and believes she has cause to do so. She just needs the proof. But Attleson is a clever fellow who doesn't want to lose the comfy lifestyle his wife's success allows him, so he allows for no proof of his extracurricular activities. He thinks...
But then this man Debrette starts harassing him and his friends believe it to be blackmail. Attleson and his friend Rockingham are both meant to travel to Paris and plan to stay at the same hotel. When Rockingham returns home, he tells their circle of friends that Attleson never arrived. He talks Robert Grenville, a journalist, into trying to hunt down Debrette and the trail leads to a run-down gothic tower with a belfry. Debrette disappears as well and Attleson's suitcase--passport and all--is found in the basement. The men decide that it's a case for Scotland Yard and the Yard decides that it's a case for Inspector MacDonald. When a headless and handless corpse is discovered plastered up in a niche in the tower, MacDonald must follow the meagre trail of clues to find out if it is Debrette or Attleson who was left behind--and who put him there? Did one of the men eliminate the other? Or did Sybilla's "friend" get tired of waiting for her to have grounds for divorce? Perhaps Grenville got tired of waiting for Attleson to give permission for his ward, Elizabeth Leigh, to marry him. Or maybe there's more money in the case than meets the eye and someone got greedy?
You wouldn't think a book with a headless corpse would be fun, but this is. The opening scene following a funeral sets the tone and mysteries and spooky gothic towers notwithstanding, this is a fun read. We watch Robert Grenville (described as well-muscled under his coat) repeated get knocked over the head in his pursuit of Debrette--despite being told by Rockingham, his dear Elizabeth, and MacDonald that he'd better leave it alone.
"If he hadn't had the world's thickest skull, he wouldn't be alive now."
And as MacDonald notes, if he hadn't had the world's thickest skull in another sense, he wouldn't have been bashed over the head so many times....And if he hadn't had the world's thickest skull (and be destined to survive his adventures) we wouldn't enjoy watching the fun so much. The number of people who go sneaking about the tower also makes for interesting complications and we're never sure--given a booby-trap Grenville lays for anyone trying to enter the tower--just how many people there are.
Lorac does an excellent job providing motives for nearly all the main characters--even the butler may have done it!--so the solution, while unexpected, doesn't come out of nowhere. I will quibble about two people having the same motive, however. I do think that was a bit much--but I had so much fun revisiting London in the company of Inspector MacDonald that I will forgive her. ★★★★
First line: "As funerals go, it was quite a snappy effort."
Last line: "Send me some wedding cake later--and good luck to you!"
Deaths = 6 (one car accident; one gassed; two shot; one natural; one drowned)
All challenges fulfilled: Mount TBR,Vintage Mystery Challenge, Reading by the Numbers, Medical Examiner,Cloak & Dagger,52 Books in 52 Weeks,52 Book Club,Series Catch-Up,Stacking the Series,BC by Erin,TBR 23 in '23,Linz the Bookworm RC,Pick Your Poison,Mystery Reporter