Cradled in the valley of the River Lune, the tiny village of Garthmere is set amongst a ‘chequered carpet of farm land’, fields of pale gold, the fells clothed in heather dipping into the Yorkshire Dales and in the distance the blue hills of the Lake District. Above the village where the sun captures the old stone of the farm buildings is medieval Garthmere Hall where the Garth family have lived for centuries. Old irascible Robert Garth, his daughter Marion, Charles recently back from Malaya and Malcolm a would be poet are helped on the farm by Elizabeth Meldon their land girl; the only member of the family missing is Richard who left for Canada 25 years ago and hasn’t been back since – or has he?
Written in 1944 the time and place are very important in this murder mystery. Lorac moved to Lunesdale from London when she was in her fifties and positively basks in the beauty of the landscape and the close knit local farming families. I love the way she explains the family assembling in the parlour for a meal ‘described as tea . . .its fare was more substantial than that of many an urban dining table’. On this evening it includes a ham and boiled eggs, tomatoes and salad, I get the impression Lorac is really enjoying her newfound customs whereas a more northern writer like Dorothy Whipple just brings out the fish pie for tea because that’s what people do – the north/south divide?! Anyway, she has a lot of fun with Superintendent Layng, a townie who mistakenly treats the farmers reticence for stupidity and nimbly gets rid of him by summarising the quantity of extra work the local police force had to do during war time. So much extra work that the acting chief constable, worried about Layng’s ability calls in Scotland Yard and Chief Inspector Macdonald arrives.
Instantly at home in the landscape and with the locals Macdonald is the shrewd, trusted, empathetic voice of good sense and understanding that is needed. This is a lovely neat crime with a dead body and a small group of suspects in an enclosed setting but the way Lorac deftly moves suspicion around made it a page turner that was as cosy as a freshly brewed pot of tea with homemade bread and jam.