Many a time he had based a case on disconnected fragments put together from seemingly useless conversations. In the present case, he was fitting a theory together from possibilities, and even as he had talked that afternoon his mind had been playing with possibilities.
Checkmate to Murder, E.C.R. Lorac
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Checkmate to Murder is another atmospheric masterpiece from E.C.R. Lorac. She uses the weather and the wartime restrictions to create tension and to enhance a well-crafted whodunnit. Like Bats in the Belfry and Murder by Matchlight, the setting is wartime London. Not all of the Golden Age detective fiction writers chose to write stories set during the war; some stuck to more exotic locales and wrote more escapist types of stories. (Highly recommend the Shedunnit podcast series about the Queens of Crime at War for more about this.) Lorac, though, uses the war, the restrictions, the emotions, and people’s reactions to create a picture of the time that is fascinating to read.
This book, like Matchlight, makes a lot out of the blackout restrictions. It’s mentioned so many times in the initial chapters of this story that you start to feel the worry and tension yourself. Is there light showing? Will they be fined? The blackout becomes a minor character in the story. It made me pause to think about just how serious a problem it was and to imagine the lengths people must have gone to in order to ensure they were doing their part.
Inspector Macdonald is his precise, methodical self, using his team’s skills to advantage. I thoroughly enjoy reading him and love his process of tracking down each lead and bit of information, no matter how insignificant. It always works to his benefit and it’s enjoyable to see the early workings of the police procedural rather than the “little grey cells” or an almost omniscient detective at work. The plodding grunt work is truly how cases are solved and it’s nice to see that represented. It helps, of course, that Macdonald is clever, witty, and has a good sense of humor.
“Detection isn’t based on brilliant flashes of intuition—at least, mine isn’t. It’s based on a reconstruction of possibilities.”
I didn’t figure this one out, which is not surprising. The clues were all there, I think, and someone more observant could have probably put them all together and come up with the solution. This one was a quick read, and I was happy to be absorbed in the setting and feeling of wartime London.
What’s your favorite wartime mystery? I still have other Lorac’s to get to, but it’s also nice to branch out and see how other writers handled the war and its accompanying mood.
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