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.