The Reprint Wars: Bats in the Belfry


The Reprint of the Year Award








Kate Jackson, who blogs over at Cross Examining Crime, has strong leadership qualities: our little gang of GA crime fiction bloggers are all keen to do joint blogging and have some combined enterprises – but without Kate to organize us we would never get anything done!

This time she has had the brilliant idea of our awarding a prize for the Reprint of the Year. With the British Library Crime Classics leading the way, many forgotten crime novels are getting the chance to find a new audience, and we are all enthusiasts for the idea.

As Kate says in this blogpost:

The number of publishers reprinting vintage mysteries is on the increase, meaning us lucky fans are getting access to more and more of the books and authors we want to try. With so many novels and short story collections on offer, it can be hard to pick out the very best, which is where the Reprint of the Year Awards come in.

Sooo… we have each chosen two novels to put forward for the award,and today we are all going to post the review of our first one.

Next Saturday, 15th, we’ll each be writing about another title.

On 22nd December Kate will set up a poll for this award, listing the 18 titles we bloggers have chosen, as well as 2 readers’ choices. At this stage readers will be able to vote for their favoured titles.

On 29th December Kate will reveal the results of the poll, announcing the title which has won the accolade of Reprint of the Year!

There will be readers’ write-in candidates – put your suggestions in the comments either below, or on Kate’s blog.

And I guess someone will be collecting links to the various posts. I’m guessing – call me Mrs Intuition – it might be Kate. 

**** Yes it is! Follow this link to read Kate's own first post, find a more cogent explanation of what's going on, and see links to all this week's entries. 


And here we go: My first choice is


Bats in the Belfry by ECR Lorac

first published 1937, and now reprinted as a BL Crime Classic


reprint Bats in Belfry 2

The big ‘secret’ about Lorac – an incredibly prolific crime writer who published under a number of names – is that she was a woman. It seems that most readers were unaware of that at the time, and that she chose an ambiguous pseudonym in order to avoid prejudice.

As I read this I thought that if I hadn’t known, I probably would have guessed at its having a male author. It is more of an adventure/thriller book than a straight crime story, and had a masculine feel. (But whether that is a real thing, and how easy it is to spot differences, is a subject for another time.)

Where this book excelled was in its picture of London in the late 1930s – street names are given, journeys described, and you get a real feel for what it must have been like to drive around the city then (yes, the traffic was terrible). There are a number of strange buildings in the book, in particular the huge sculpture studio known as the Belfry, a most sinister spot.

The story opens with a group of upper class drones discussing a funeral, and talking about their lives. Most of the potential suspects, victims, witnesses and perps are here. It’s quite a complex plot, and on p126 a family tree is described (not charted) which we could have done with seeing earlier. And there is a lot of this kind of thing:
‘If Grenville saw Debrette at Charing Cross while I was with Rockingham in Mayfair, it lets the latter out.’
I liked the description of one character’s life (by his butler, naturally):
‘He liked his comfort, sir. Good service, good food, a club, Turkish baths, swimming, fencing, motoring and all. [He] is a very pleasant gentleman to work for, appreciates good service, and is generous when he’s in funds, but if anything isn’t just so, he’ll not put up with it. If his linen sheets aren’t always the same quality, his bath water a hot as he likes it, his bath salts just so, he mentions it.’
Not much in the way of clothes, though a whitereprint Bats in Belfry satin teagown is mentioned. (The picture above is not a teagown, but it is very beautiful.)

The book is a strange mixture of amateur detection and police procedural, which works surprisingly well. A lot of key information is withheld, so the reader would be doing well to solve the crime unaided, and by the end all the characters had merged somewhat. But I did think it painted a splendid and highly enjoyable picture of London life of the time.

Young woman in a white Molyneux gown, 1931, from Kristine’s photostream.

Group photo from the 1930s, same source.






















Comments

  1. Brilliant post Moira and yes I have been collecting the posts you and others have put up already and I will catch the others as and when they pop up. Love the photos in your post as always. You're not the only one to see Lorac's writing as masculine as H R F Keating was of the same opinion and was equally surprised to find Lorac was a woman.

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    1. Thanks Kate, and have added the link to yours! It's an interesting question - whether we can tell gender from reading blind, I really want to think about it.

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  2. I am so impressed with the way Kate puts everything together, Moira. And this is a great idea. I'm glad you liked this novel, and I couldn't agree more about the way it portrays life at that time and in that place. I liked that very much, too. There's also some sly wit in the novel that I thought worked well.

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    1. Yes, isn't Kate great? And it's been enjoyable to try to choose our favourite reprints. It's been a long time since I read any Lorac.

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  3. Nicely done. I do love Lorac. I thought about reading this one for our Reprint extravaganza, but you beat me to the punch!

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    1. Oh no! You should have warned me off - but I'm sure you've chosen two splendid books...

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  4. Glen just finished Murder by Matchlight by this author and liked it a lot. He is planning on buying this book / this edition very soon.

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    1. That's a great title. She wrote so many - I feel I won't hunt them down, but there'll always be one around when I would like to read another.

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  5. Probably not one I'll seek out, thanks.

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