The Sixteenth Stair by E C R Lorac

The Villa Eugenie stands in London has been owned by the Hazely family since its construction in the early nineteenth century, but now stands empty – but it is perhaps not as abandoned as people think it is. When Timothy Hazely, a family member visiting from the USA, decides to visit the family pile unannounced, he is shocked to find… you’ve guessed it! … a dead body at the bottom of the stairs.

Why was Patrick Hazely visiting the abandoned house? And, more importantly, who booby-trapped the sixteenth stair in order for Patrick to fall to his death? As Inspector MacDonald investigates, he finds that more than one member of the family has been visiting the house for various reasons. As the “accidents” continue, it seems as if a ruthless murderer is stalking the family – but with the clues pointing in all sorts of directions, can they be stopped before the killer’s work is done?

Edith Caroline Rivet wrote 72 books in total as a member of the Detection Club between 1931 and 1959, 49 under the pseudonym E R C Lorac and the other 23 as Carol Carnac, but despite the large amount of output and the fact that she was female, she didn’t ascend to the title of Queen of Crime. And on this evidence, I can sort of see why.

It’s a perfectly fine read. The mystery is fairly intriguing, and while the action mostly follows Inspector MacDonald, it switches to the central group of suspects trying to work out which of them is trying to kill them, until MacDonald moves back on to the trail of the killer.

The family dynamics are interesting enough, but the clueing for the murderer is pretty obscure. There are two clues, one of which requires knowledge of an old military practise and the other is nothing more than a possible hint. But the identity of the killer is fairly obvious to anyone who’s read a mystery or a hundred.

So, perfectly pleasant and more enjoyable, to me at least, than a lot of Golden Age books, but lacking that hook that would raise it up to make Lorac a must-read. Still, there’s enough potential here for a return visit soon. Well Worth A Look.

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4 comments

  1. I’ve read one Lorac — Case in the Clinic — and feel about it much as you do this: it’s fine, nothing amazing, but with some nice touches here and there which could mean better things elsewhere. It was passable enough that Ipicked up another — The Devil and the CID — and maybe I’ll get a better sense of her an her work now that you’ve found this thoroughly middling, too. Many thanks!

    Like

      • I read ‘Murder by Matchlight’, which garnered a few good reviews, but found it rather middling. The prose was lean and moved the narrative along well, but the resolution was slightly underwhelming…

        Liked by 1 person

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