Friday’s Forgotten Book: Black Beadle by E.C.R. Lorac

Edith Caroline Rivett (1894–1958) published more than 70 mysteries under the names E. C. R. Lorac and Carol Carnac between 1931 and 1959. Nearly all of the E.C.R. Lorac titles are about Chief Inspector Robert MacDonald, a Scot on the London police force. Some of her books have been released as part of the British Library Crime Classics series.

Black Beadle (Collins, 1939) is as much a study of the political environment in England during the years leading up to World War II as it is a mystery. England was not immune to the turmoil taking place in Europe. Fascism and Communism had strong proponents, pushing the Liberal party to one side. One of the main characters in the book, Gilbert Mantland, might have been modeled on Oswald Mosley, who founded the British Union of Fascists. Both made their political reputations on working with labor issues, both changed party affiliations more than once, and both married much younger socialite wives. This book reminds me of the first Rowland Sinclair mystery by Sulari Gentill; set in the late 1930s in Sydney, Australia, Rowland is pressured by his older brother to join a far-right political faction.

Chief Inspector MacDonald comes into the story when Joseph Suttler, general manager of the Harringstone Building Society, is deliberately run down by a large powerful vehicle which turns out to belong to Mantland’s political rival, Barry Revian. Revian cannot prove where he was during the critical time, and neither can three others who, because of their motives to kill Suttler, become the focus of the investigation. One of the three is Mantland; another is a prominent Jewish financier, a staunch Liberal; and the third is an employee of the building society whom Suttler was blackmailing. MacDonald is determined that the blackmailed employee will not be charged with the murder simply because he lacks money to hire a skilled lawyer and the others have significant political clout.

Investigation into Suttler’s associations and activities reveal theft and blackmailing propensities and a prison sentence under another name. All of the suspects were his victims in one way or another. The actual motive for the murder came as a surprise to me, I don’t think the clues provided were adequate for the reader to guess it, but it was still a satisfying wrap-up to a multidimensional story.