Series: Robert MacDonald #25
Published by British Library Publishing Division on November 10, 2018 (first published 1945)
Genres: Vintage Mystery
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London, 1945. The capital is shrouded in the darkness of the blackout, and mystery abounds in the parks after dusk.
During a stroll through Regent’s Park, Bruce Mallaig witnesses two men acting suspiciously around a footbridge. In a matter of moments, one of them has been murdered; Mallaig’s view of the assailant is but a brief glimpse of a ghastly face in the glow of a struck match.
The murderer’s noiseless approach and escape seems to defy all logic, and even the victim’s identity is quickly thrown into uncertainty. Lorac’s shrewd yet personable C.I.D. man Macdonald must set to work once again to unravel this near-impossible mystery.
Murder by Matchlight features Scotland Yard’s imperturbable Chief Inspector Robert MacDonald, who is tasked with finding the killer of the man on the bridge. His only evidence: a set of bicycle tracks that come to an abrupt end. His suspects: a colorful cast that includes the shy, soft-spoken witness, a respected London physician, a screenwriter, an unemployed laborer, and a vaudevillian specializing in illusions.
This is the first of Lorac’s MacDonald mysteries I’ve read. MacDonald is a good character, smart, kind, a gentleman. He’s got several cops who work for him who have their own characteristics. But they are all honest and good at their jobs.
The job is not easy. The dead man lived in a boarding house along with several “theater” people. The suspects are definitely more interesting than the detective.
What makes Murder by Matchlight stand out is the war time London setting. The blackout restrictions and Nazi bombings are integral to the plot. It’s neat to see how normal life goes on during wartime. The theater stays open, the cops keep investigating, the restaurants continue serving, but you try to save your silk stocking when your building catches on fire because it’s nigh impossible to get new ones. Most mysteries I read from the era don’t show us quite as detailed a picture of how normal, everyday people were affected.