Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: The Slippery Staircase by E.C.R Lorac

When Caird's housekeeper showed his visitor to the door a few moments later, the old actor stood and listened as Flemming's footsteps died away beyond the closed door. He had turned to the right, towards the staircase which led to the upper part of the house, not to the left, towards the descending flight.


Caird shrugged his shoulders in the manner of one who acts, even when he is alone.


"Foolish fellow, foolish fellow! At least I warned him."


And outside the rain fell steadily.






Martia Vannery's parties are the talk of the town. Daughter of the renowned painter (and devil incarnate) Gabriel Vannery, Martia has returned from Paris after the death of her father. Inheriting the house where she had spent a miserable childhood, she promptly converts it into flats, keeping the lower portion for herself and hosting lavish parties in her father's studio.

One person who is dying to be invited to these parties is the snoop, Elroy Flemming. Always looking for cheap news meant to titillate, Flemming wants an entry into the Regency style building which houses so many interesting individuals. The first floor is owned by Waller Caird, a retired stage actor; the second by a bit-player actress Thelma Romney whose husband had died in mysterious circumstances (drug overdose???); the top floor by  the Byrands, Valetta and Anton, whose book Gangways, is a huge bestseller.

Somehow caging an invitation, Flemming becomes a fly on the wall, listening to the gossip flowing freely round him. He also strikes up an acquaintance with an enigmatic girl, Juliet Romney, who volunteers to take him to the top floor and introduce him to the Byrands. Flemming cannot believe his luck but as he starts ascending the massive staircase that joins all the floors of the house, he has his first misgiving:

Flemming looked up at her, and into his cautious trivial mind came a feeling of unease. There was something dramatic in her poise, in the slender, tense figure, and the rebellious discontented face. Those vivid blue eyes under their dark pencilled brows, the line of close-shut, obstinate lips, the gesture of long, red-nailed fingers, it was an actresses' pose and expression, but Flemming preferred drama on the other side of the footlights, or at least in the company of his fellows. He suddenly wondered why he had left the crowded studio to go on what he suspected was a wild-goose chase with Juliet Romney.

He should have remained in the party because at the top of the stairs he not only finds the corpse of an old lady but he is also accused of killing her by a hysterical Juliet Romney! So much for his scoop...

But was the old lady, who turns out to be Fanny Seely and who had been living in the attic at the top, really murdered? Or did she just lose her balance and slip down the slippery staircase? Had she been pushed from above, there would have been footprints on the stairs, right? But wait a minute, wasn't there another old lady who had slipped down the stairs and died and wasn't she the sister of the deceased? The CID, led by Chief Inspector MacDonald, is called in but first it has to be determined whether it was accident or murder.

I discovered E.C.R. Lorac last year after reading Bev's review of one of her books. Subsequently, I read Murder of a Martinet by her. This is the second book of hers that I have read and it is fun going through these rather old-fashioned police investigations, not so much forensics as digging painstakingly into the archives.

And, as somebody interested in history, I also look for references to the empire in the literature of the colonial age. In this book, it is Waller Caird who 'won a packet in the Calcutta Sweep and left the stage'.

The rest of the post contains spoilers so don't read any further unless you have read the book. Do scroll down though and leave a comment. Love to hear what you have to say.

SPOILERS









Were you able to guess the identity of the killer? Well, I knew that the top floor must have been sub-let for a reason. So, the question was which of the two young men? And I was like....please neither because (damn it) who wants a charming, handsome youngster to be a killer! And Martia's love did seem something out of the blue, didn't it?



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First Line: "By the way old chap, are you going to Martia Vannery's party next week, by any chance?"

Title: The Slippery Staircase

Author: E.C.R Lorac

Publication Details: London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1938.

First Published: 1938.

Series: Chief Inspector MacDonald

Other books read by the same author: Murder of a Martinet

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Book(s) with similar theme(s):


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The book might be found in libraries. I borrowed it from a local library too.

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Submitted for the following challenges:

A-Z (Titles), AZRC, Borrowed Book, British Books, Criminal Plots II, Find the Cover, Merely Mystery, Mystery and Suspense, Support Your Local Library, Vintage Mystery

8 comments:

  1. Lorac/Carnac is getting a lot of attention in this challenge. I have about five of her books and never read one, but I plan on reading MURDER BY MATCHLIGHT soon. Speaking of the "Empire" have you read many of the Inspector Ghote books? I know the early ones are all set in the '60s and '70s and really have nothing to do with what you mentioned above, but in your opinion do they reflect any truths about India? I understand Keating had never set foot in India when he started writing them.

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  2. Hi John

    Welcome to the blog. Can't say for others but I quite enjoy Lorac since I am not fond of new methods of investigation: blood reports, DNA etc. These - digging into the past, connecting the dots - are my cup of tea.

    I haven't read the Inspector Ghote books (nor seen the movie) but perhaps I should pick up one now and see how he imagines India.

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  4. Welcome to the blog W_O_W. Thanks a lot for these very kind words. I hope you continue to enjoy the posts.

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