Classic Crime

E.C.R. Lorac

Edith Caroline Rivett (6th May 1894 – 2nd July 1958) was a British crime writer, who wrote under the pseudonyms E. C. R. Lorac, Carol Carnac and Mary Le Bourne during the golden age of detective fiction.

The youngest daughter of Harry and Beatrice Rivett, née Foot, Edith was born in Hendon, Middlesex. She had two sisters. In 1898 the family emigrated to Australia, for warm weather to treat Harry Rivett's tuberculosis. This was unsuccessful, and in 1900 the family returned, traveling on the SS Illawarra. Harry Rivett died on the voyage, and was buried at sea.

When the family reached London, they were penniless, but were received into the household of Beatrice Rivett's father, Edward Foot. Beatrice found employment as an assistant rate collector. Edith attended South Hampstead High School, and the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London and she continued as a craft practitioner throughout her life; her work included embroidery and calligraphy that has been on display at Westminster Abbey.

Lorac published her first detective novel in 1931 called ‘The Murder on the Burrows’, a well-crafted debut which launched her detective Inspector Macdonald on a career that was to last for more than a quarter of a century. Nine Lorac novels were published by Sampson Low, earning increasingly favourable reviews before she moved to the more prestigious imprint of Collins Crime Club in 1936, with ‘Crime Counter Crime’, set during a General Election. She remained a Crime Club stalwart for the rest of her life.

Remaining unmarried, she lived her last years with her elder sister, Gladys Rivett in Lonsdale, Lancashire. She became a popular figure in the village while continuing to work productively as a detective novelist. To this day, she is remembered in the local community as spirited and strong-willed, a woman with a strong social conscience. Edith Rivett died at the Caton Green Nursing Home, Caton-with-Littledale, near Lancaster. Rivett is buried in the churchyard at St Saviour's Church, Aughton.

First editions in the attractive dust jackets of the period can now change hands, on the rare occasions when they come on to the market, for a high price. The British Library Crime Classics has so far published, Bats in the Belfry, Fire in the Thatch, Murder By Matchlight, Murder in the Mill-Race, Fell Murder, Checkmate to Murder, plus Crossed Skis under her Carol Carnac pseudonym.

Review: Two-Way Murder

‘Two-Way Murder is a first for the Crimesquad Classic Crime page in the fact that this is in fact the first printing of this novel. No one can quite explain why this novel, delivered just before her death, was never published. However, it is a huge achievement and dogged detective work on behalf of Martin Edwards and the British Library that over sixty years later, this book is finally in print! It makes one wonder what other crime treasures are out there to be uncovered.

‘Two-Way Murder’ is livelier and more frivolous and has a totally different feel from her MacDonald novels. The cast is young and it feels that Lorac was striking out in a new direction. I know this was written in the late 50s, but I couldn’t help getting the vibe that this story was more based in the 1920s. This is Inspector Waring’s only outing, but to be honest he doesn’t have much to do with proceedings. In fact, Lorac focuses more on those who become embroiled in the case.

Saying that, Lorac by this time was a mistress of her craft and is adept at throwing in red herrings a plenty to keep me off the trail. Everyone is a potential killer, but it wasn’t until near the final reveal that I latched on to who the culprit was! Having read so many crime novels in my time, it is always a pleasure when a writer can keep me discombobulated for so long! This is a perfect gift for anyone who loves a classic crime as you know they’ve never read it before! Martin Edwards has definitely made me a fan of Lorac’s through the British Library series. I know it has been a complete surprise by how hugely successful this series has been, and I hope it continues for a long time to come. There is nothing more comforting than reading a crime story without any of today's modern technology and ‘Two-Way Murder’ is just that - a comfort read and one to be savoured.

Reviewed by: C.S.

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