Murder By Matchlight

I love new year, a clean sheet, an empty page, resolutions and good intentions, the possibility of a whole new me (again). And this year there’s been an added bonus because under the Christmas tree was a British Library Crime Classic. I’ve been looking forward to reading this series for ages, but slow reader that I am, have never found the right sized reading moment. But to start this year I (thankfully) threw down my classics challenge and caution and instead picked up Murder By Matchlight.

It’s a Thursday evening in London in 1945, the city is pitch dark under the blackout and John Ward ‘a lazy good-for-nothing son of a gun’ is murdered in Regent’s Park. But has the murderer been seen? Lovelorn Bruce Mallaig on a stroll through the park witnesses a ghastly face in the glow of a match. . .

It quickly becomes clear that it’s not just the identity of the murderer that needs to be found but also the identity of the murdered man – is it John Ward after all? Chief Inspector Macdonald is quickly on the scene and moves the inquiry to a lodging house in Notting Hill whose tenants are ‘mostly in the profession – variety folk.’ A plot thickens.

I’m not sure I ever guess whodunit and I certainly didn’t this time but that didn’t matter because Chief Inspector Macdonald in a kind but shrewd manner interrogated his suspects quietly and respectfully whilst thoroughly enjoying their eccentricities. There was a lot of fun with ventriloquism and wigs, stage props and conjuring skills but when the lodging house was bombed the scene and characters were described with such a knowing compassion that it became more than just a light mystery.

The realities of war time London provide the crime but the atmosphere pervades the story and provides the kind of small details of social history that I love. Food is always one of my favourite things to look out for and here Bruce Mallaig, a very ordinary young office worker decides to go to The Grill Room at St.Pancras Station for his lunch. It’s pretty full but he manages to find a seat and orders ‘Soup, roast beef and all that, and a Bass.’ This is so stylish, while we all dash around picking up sandwiches, 75 years ago he’s sitting down to a three course meal that includes a fish course and in a packed restaurant on a weekday lunchtime!

This was a great introduction to the BLCC series, and many thanks to Fiction Fan for her brilliant top ten list of titles, A Cavalcade Of Criminals which I aim to work through.

18 thoughts on “Murder By Matchlight

  1. On occasion, when such things were normal, I would endeavour to get to St. Pancras an hour before the Newcastle train, just so I could stop in at the pub in the station, The Parcel Yard. The fish & chip supper is superb there!

    It’s a wonderful, proper, Victorian boozer, still something of the grand about it; high ceilings, snugs, tiling, mahogany jump; vast! It is accessed via a grand staircase straight off the concourse. It’s always rammed, but the clientele, I suppose, are transient. I wonder if this could be Bruce Mallaig’s Grill Room?

    Great post πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Jane! I’ve enjoyed all the books of hers I’ve read, and her settings are always great, but for me the ones set in the war are the best – she’s brilliant at creating that sort of “plucky Brit keeping calm and carrying on” atmosphere. She doesn’t always set them in London – I enjoyed Fire in the Thatch which is also set in wartime, but in a rural setting. I loved the variety performers in this one too.

    I’m excited that you’re aiming to read my top ten! Can’t wait to hear what you think of them – hope you enjoy them! πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The atmosphere was superb and it was a relief not to have to make any concessions for the era. Fell Murder is the other one I have, Fire in the Thatch will be the next!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Like Karen, I’m rather find of the Loracs that the British Library have republished as part of their Crime Classics series. They’re always entertaining with a great sense of place. So glad to hear you enjoyed it!

    Liked by 1 person

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