Death of an Author

Death of an Author, a mystery novel by a woman who used the gender-ambiguous pen name E.C.R. Lorac, centers on a mystery novelist who may or may not be a woman. First published in 1935 and revived here by the invaluable British Library Crime Classics series, this missing-person mystery should be admired for both its protofeminist layers of provocation and the puzzle at its heart.

As Death of an Author begins, celebrity novelist Michael Ashe is telling his publisher that he wants to be introduced to a successful thriller writer in the publisher's stable: the reclusive--and presumed male--Vivian Lestrange. Lestrange agrees to meet with Ashe and their publisher on the condition that no one reveals that she's actually female. Three months after this meeting, a woman arrives at the Hampstead Police Station to say that she's Lestrange's secretary and that Lestrange has gone missing. Or are the woman and Lestrange the same person, as one detective suspects?

Lorac (1894-1958) has scads of fun with gender teases (there's a running conversation about whether one can tell a man's writing from a woman's) and with the book's meta chatter about the merits of crime novels and their authors (two characters make disparaging remarks about "thriller merchants"). Lorac also clearly delights in her odd-couple detectives. While Chief Inspector Warner finds Inspector Bond's ready skepticism dispiriting, Bond doesn't appreciate Warner's "flights of fancy." Qualifying as such a flight is perhaps a first from a crime novel detective: Warner's spontaneous recitation of a homespun limerick. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Powered by: Xtenit