Neil Rockingham asks Robert Grenville to track down a man named Debrette. It seems that Debrette has been harassing their friend Bruce Attleton, and Neil thinks that it may involve blackmail. Rockingham’s concerns prove well founded when Attleton never shows for a planned meeting with him in Paris. But it is when he learns that Grenville found (and then lost) Debrette, living in the Belfry, a crumbling artist’s studio in Notting Hill, where he also found Attleton’s suitcase and passport. Inspector Macdonald and his team are called in to investigate and find an unidentifiable body plastered into the walls of the Belfry. With both Attleton and Debrette missing, whose body is it?
I must admit, I go back and forth regarding my thoughts on Lorac. Of the two books that I’ve read, I enjoyed Murder in the Mill-Race, but found Murder by Matchlight to be just ok. And now with Belfry I’ve swung back to enjoyment. This is a great police procedural (without the endless boring interviews found in Matchlight), with just a little bit of amateur sleuthing. The plot is nicely convoluted, involving blackmail, adultery, and murder; with a complex tangle of motives and suspects.
“Motive? There are lashings of ‘em! Attleton kills Debrette who blackmailed him. Debrette kills Attleton for seducing his daughter or some such. Grenville kills Attleton because he wants to marry his ward. Mrs. Attleton eggs on Thomas Burroughs to kill unwanted husband, and urges virtues of concrete, as an antedote.”
With a game of how to hide a corpse, Lorac conjures up an atmosphere that is suitably dark from the start, then maintains the mood with foggy nights, dark twisting streets, and decaying buildings. Lorac’s characterizations are a delight and just about everyone is suspect. Bruce, the failed writer living off of his successful actress wife Sybilla, who is disdainful, contemptuous, and selfish; Thomas Burroughs, Sybilla’s boorish lover, who gets caught at the scene of the crime and provide an explanation; Robert, the journalist amateur sleuth, who btw is angered that Attleton is preventing him from marrying young Elizabeth (Attleton’s ward). And then we have Macdonald and the various members of his team. These are no cardboard cutout plods, as Lorac imbues each of them with individual qualities that give them personality. MacDonald even has something of a personality, injected with some wry humor.
Of course, as usual I have a quibble. In the final chapters there were a couple of incidents that occurred that were never explained, and felt like Lorac was padding, or dragging the ending out a bit.
Still, a very entertaining mystery. Glad I gave it a go.
My Judgement – 4/5