Fell Murder

Written by E C R Lorac

Review written by LJ Hurst

Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung

Fell Murder
British Library Publishing
RRP: £8.99
Released: July 10 2019

South of the Lake District, but still far enough north that its ways seem strange is Lunesdale in Lancashire, a bleak, hilly farming country. In 1944 E C R Lorac set Fell Murder, the first of three detective stories, there. The Theft of the Iron Dogs would follow two years later, and finally Crook O’Lune in 1953. Martin Edwards has recently blogged about the area, and finding residents who had known Lorac when she moved there.

Lorac must have been one of those people who found themselves trapped in London by war-work yearning to escape, and she used similar characters in another area of the country in Fire In The Thatch (1946), set in the West Country. In that case, though, the war had ended and her characters were making a new start and facing the future; Fell Murder is set during the war when farmers were under pressure on the food front.

The farming family in question are the Garths, still under the thumb of their elderly father, Robert Garthmere. The family home, seems symbolic of their situation: half of it beyond use, the other half a warm shelter where they can eat cooked breakfasts and filling meals at the end of the day. On the other hand, there is a shortage of labour and everyone must work from dusk to dawn, even though the harvest is just gathered. Garth’s daughter Marion acts as manager and has seen the books: she knows there is money but Garth will spend none of it. This is not a household in which shotguns should be left loaded and resting against the furniture, but that is what happens. The murder, though, occuring in a barn high on a hill – picture, as Lorac’s Inspector MacDonald must do, the stone walls, fields, outbuildings, tracks and herds of this undulating country, and try to calculate all the ways a murderer might make his way to and from the murder site while doing the work that would provide him with an alibi.

The war provides some interesting background: Charles Garth, for instance, has escaped from Singapore with only the clothes on his back, and feels the relative poverty. Elizabeth Meldon is the Land Army member assigned to the farm, with scarcely a chance to leave it for a life of her own: local farmers “won’t mind giving you a lift. You can say you were looking at some cattle for me if you’re stopped by the traffic cops” (presumably this was a war-time check on the abuse of red diesel) Marion tells her, giving her the chance to get to market in Lancaster, which would not be much comfort to a young woman then or now.

Between the end of patriarchs such as Robert Garth and the agricultural revolution that followed the end of the Second World War life in Lunesdale would never be the same again. Fell Murder, though, is a record of both those passings.

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