Two-Way 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

Two-Way Murder
British Library Publishing
RRP: £8.99
Released: March 10 2021

Two-Way Murder is the first original work to be published in the British Library Crime Classics series but that is not to say it is new. As Martin Edwards, whom we must thank for his labours, says in his Introduction Lorac seems to have written this book in the mid-50s shortly before the end of her life. Other works were published posthumously under both her Lorac and Carol Carnac pseudonyms (her real name was Caroline Rivett) but not this one. Martin Edwards also points out that that Lorac probably intended to start using a third pseudonym, Mary Le Bourne, and a third detective protagonist: Lorac had Inspector MacDonald and Carnac had Inspector Rivers, but Two-Way Murder introduces Inspectors Turner and Waring.

Lorac takes us back to the south coast of England, which she had seemed to abandon as a setting soon after her first two titles, but this one does have a lot in common with her later books set in the Lancashire Fells and Welsh marches in emphasising the switchback roads running across the Downs. The snow, floods and dangers of those other books are replaced here by thick fog which makes the choice of road from outlying farms and public houses to the Hunt Ball in the county town of Fordings so important. No one wants to arrive late, and friends needing a lift need to know that their promised driver is going to arrive on time, particularly if the young bucks of the county are to have a chance with the girlhood of the local fancy.

What is inconvenient is discovering a body lying in the road on the way back, particularly if one’s passenger is not the gentleman one took with one outward, but a young lady one is hoping to impress with one’s company. It is dashed inconvenient if said young lady is out without her father’s permission and has to return Cinderella fashion before father notices. Fortunately, said young lady is sporting enough to walk home the last short distance while the driver is public spirited enough to find a local house with a telephone to call the police. Having to break into the house to telephone and consequently to be beaten senseless is even more dashed unfortunate.

Then things start to become more complicated as back stories emerge. The girl from the house with the telephone who disappeared a year before, whose family were infamous for their tempers. A low dive of a pub above the cliffs which is being kept under furtive surveillance by the Cinderella father. Who had left the Hunt Ball early and who had then returned; who was on the road and at what time in the evening. These are the questions Inspector Waring of the CID will consider to the annoyance of his uniformed colleague. If Waring had known that at least one man returned home badly concussed and that his household had cleaned his clothes the Inspector might have been even more interested. But people will keep secrets even if the author does not reveal them at the time. Martin Edwards comments that the novel has been slightly edited from Lorac’s typescript though he does not comment on the different atmospheres of the successive sections. Overall, the book does not seem of the mid-50s but twenty years earlier, with its emphasis on the importance of the Hunt Ball and the social niceties about it. There is also a very strong emphasis on the young women at the ball, but also their immaturity. The Cinderella girl is repeatedly addressed as “child” even while the people about her comment on her necessity to be married. Thinking of how Joanna Cannan turned from writing crime to the pony books for which her Pullein-Thompson daughters became famous in their own right, one might think that this was the original intention of “Mary Le Bourne” before ECR Lorac regained control and took the book in another direction.

In my Shots’ review of Carol Carnac’s Crossed Skis (another BL Crime Classic title) I pointed out that the plot would appear under her Lorac identity in Murder In Vienna four years later, and something similar happens here, albeit with a seventy year gap. The connection this time is with, again, her Carol Carnac identity and Impact of Evidence (1954), which also uses a road accident and – this was the clue for me – a similar personal history of the villain. I did not know – this is why Two-Way Murder remains worth reading – how the murder was achieved or why but I was sure of who would be identified as the killer – Lorac seems to have hated that sort of person.

Somewhere out there, Martin Edwards says, there is another typescript: E C R Lorac’s autobiography. It must be found: I want to know what underlay such twisted, surprising and puzzling mysteries. Two-Way Murder will only leave you wanting to know more.

Book Reviews
About Us
Contact Us

Privacy Policy | Contact Shots Editor