Wednesday, 9 September 2009

E.C.R. Lorac


E.C.R. Lorac is a writer forgotten today by the general reading public, but enthused over by some fans of Golden Age detection, and avidly collected by a number of people. Her real name was Carol Rivett, and she also wrote as Carol Carnac. The quest for copies of her early books has meant that prices on the second hand market can be very high.

My parents were both keen on Lorac, and one story in particular, in which the curious features of Morecambe Bay played a vital part in the plot, was a favourite of theirs. I refer to it in one of the key scenes in The Serpent Pool, when Marc Amos is deliberating about his life with Hannah Scarlett.

I mentioned James M. Pickard’s catalogue of rare books the other day, and he features several highly obscure Lorac items. These include two unpublished novels. One is called Two-Way Murder, and was written under the name of Mary Le Bourne. The other, an unfinished novel, and possibly the one she was writing at the time she died, doesn’t have a title.

These are truly fascinating items which have a place in crime fiction history. The only snag is that their unique nature makes them very pricey, at £5,000 and £3,500 respectively. But I hope that whoever buys them could be persuaded to make the content of the stories more widely available to Lorac fans.

15 comments:

seana said...

I'm always fascinated by writers who use a lot of psuedonyms.I don't know if there are many reasons or just a few reasons why that happens.

Dean James said...

Count me in as a Lorac fan; I have almost all her books, as Lorac and as Carol Carnac. I've not read many of the latter, but I have read quite a few of the Lorac titles. I enjoy them. Murder by Matchlight is an interesting look at England during WWII. I enjoy her "rural" mysteries in particular; I have no idea how accurate her depiction of the areas might be, but to me she conveys a strong sense of place.

Slapinions said...

Interesting. I often think of Sue Grafton's father, a mystery writer who is remembered, when he's thought of at all, only as her ancestor.

vegetableduck said...

Martin, for an unpublished Lorac novel, that actually strikes me as quite a bargain! I'd be tempted myself.

I didn't include Loracs in my Humdrums manuscript, though I would like to do a chapter on her some day. By the way, "Mary Le Bourne" must have come from St. Mary-le-Bourne, the original name for Marylebone, where her family and she once had lived.

Martin Edwards said...

Seana, the classic example that occurs to me is John Creasey, who was so very prolific that he used different names to identify different series (and sometimes different types of story). There seems to be an increasing number of writers who use pseudonyms nowadays for 'branding' purposes. Ruth Rendell aka Barbara Vine is one such author; there's never been any secret about her identity. Unlike, for instance, when A.B.Cox started to write as Francis Iles, and kept everyone guessing.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Dean. I have a copy of Murder by Matchlight, but have not read it. The books set in or around the Lune Valley are pretty accurate, I think. One of them (can't recall the title) is set in a thinly veiled Hornby, a village where my brother in law used to live.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Slapinirons. I read a CW Grafton book once, and it was pretty good. Without checking, I think it was The Rope Began to Hang the Butcher.

Martin Edwards said...

Go on, Curt, treat yourself to that Lorac manuscript! I'm sure you'd analyse it splendidly. James Pickard's items are seldom cheap, but he does offer material of amazing quality, and the prices reflect this.

pattinase (abbott) said...

We stopped there (Morecambe Bay) after a visit to the Lake District. Quite an unusual terrain.

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, Patti. There are now guided walks across the Bay, which apparently involve quite a bit of wading, but I am rather tempted....

vegetableduck said...

Martin, I'm afraid it's a bit too much for me at this time. It's probably been purchased by now by a Japanese collector, anyway (Lorac has some fervent Japanese admirers). Anyone who gets it, though, should at least do CADS article on it! I'd hate to think of it just sitting unread under glass in someone's private collection.

The most expensive thing I ever bought, I might add, were some Freeman Wills Crofts letters, and they were much, much less than that!

seana said...

The late, great Donald Westlake is another mystery writer who seemed to proliferate his pen names on this side of the pond. I think some of the motives are obvious about pseudonyms, but some are less so. In other words, sometimes they are cloaks, but sometimes they just let other parts of a writer's psyche. It may seem somewhat mysterious to those of us outside such a mind, but actually I think it is often a way for a writer to gain access to different parts of their own psyche in order to write.

Heather and Stella said...

This is an old posting, but I am interested in Carol Rivett. She lived for the last years of her life near me in Gressingham near Hornby in the Lune Valley and there are plenty of people around here who knew her and know precisely where her novels were set and also can identify many of the thinly disguised characters. I am going to try put as much info together as I can and publish it somewhere on the net!

Heather and Stella said...

This is an old posting, but I am interested in Carol Rivett. She lived for the last years of her life near me in Gressingham near Hornby in the Lune Valley and there are plenty of people around here who knew her and know precisely where her novels were set and also can identify many of the thinly disguised characters. I am going to try put as much info together as I can and publish it somewhere on the net!

Martin Edwards said...

Great to hear that! I hope you will be kind enough to keep me posted.