FORGOTTEN BOOK: SPEAK JUSTLY OF THE DEAD by E.C.R. LORAC (1952)

After qualifying in 1939, Dr. Raymond Ferens, joined the R.A.M.C and was posted in the Far East when he was taken a prisoner by the Japanese. After the war was over, he took up practice in a mining town. However, the strenuous nature of the job, his war-time experience as well as the not-so-congenial environment of the mining town played havoc with his health. Fearing a burn-out, his colleagues asked him to take up practice in the countryside so that he could recuperate.

When the novel opens, Raymond and his wife Anne are in the process of setting up house and practice in the small village of Milham in the Moor taking over from Dr. Brown who is now retiring and planning to go and settle somewhere else. The village suits the purpose of the Ferens except for one person: Sister Monica, the patron-saint of the village, who runs an orphanage and seems to have an insidious hold over the village.

Anne takes a dislike to her from their first meeting when the Sister comes to welcome them to the village:

Glancing through the open door of the drawing room, Anne had been aware of a shadow in the wide entrance hall beyond. When she reached the hall she had to choke back an exclamation of astonishment. In the doorway, silhouetted against the sunlight, stood a figure so tall and dark and unexpected that Anne had a sudden qualm of discomfort, a sense that she was facing something unreal and utterly unlike anything she had ever known. (19-20)

Anne soon realises that there is an undercurrent of dislike and resentment against Sister Monica but her husband tells her not to rake up any dirt as the villagers, for all their resentment against a woman they had venerated for so long, would not want an outsider (as Anne is) to point fingers at somebody who is their own. Anne minds her own business but somebody has had enough of the ‘Saintly’ Monica and one fine day her body is found floating in the millpool. As the villagers are not willing to cooperate with the local police officer, the Yard is called in. Chief Inspector Macdonald and his assistant Reeves catch the culprit but I really wish they had left him/ her alone.

I like the pair of MacDonald and Reeves but found the book to be dry and the characters (barring the murderer) to be boring and uninteresting.

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First Line: Milham Prior is a place name familiar to the motorists who take the shortest route from Taunton to Barnsford, on the north Devon coast.

Publishing Details: NY: DoubleDay, 1953

First Published: 1952

Series: Macdonald # 36

No. of Pages: 196

Alternate Title: Murder in the Mill-Race

Other books read of the same author: Murder of a Martinet; Rope’s End, Rogue’s End; The Slippery Staircase

Source: Open Library

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Other Opinions: Cross Examining Crime; In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel; Kate Vane, Mysteries Ahoy!; Promoting Crime Fiction; WhatMeRead

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Part of the Friday’s Forgotten Book Meme

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Have you read the book? How did you find it?

9 thoughts on “FORGOTTEN BOOK: SPEAK JUSTLY OF THE DEAD by E.C.R. LORAC (1952)

  1. I think I enjoyed this a little more than you but I think it’s the weakest of her books that the BL has re-released so far. Have you read any of the others? I particularly liked Murder by Matchlight, with its setting in London during the war.

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    1. Welcome to the blog, FictionFan. Delighted to have you over here.

      I have read a few of Lorac’s books but don’t think the BL has published those titles. The one that I liked the most is SHROUD OF DARKNESS. Have you read it? MURDER BY MATCHLIGHT is on my TBR list. Perhaps this year, I’ll be able to read it.

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      1. No I haven’t read Shroud of Darkness yet. I seem to always be running behind with the ones the BL are publishing and so never get around to the ones they haven’t! One day… 🙂

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  2. I wouldn’t say she is a favourite author by any means, but I probably enjoy her work more than you. Though I don’t think you’re alone in finding the characters a bit dry and hard to engage with. Inspector Macdonald certainly doesn’t have much page presence.

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    1. Actually, I quite like Macdonald and especially his pairing with Reeves. It is the other characters that I usually find unlikeable. However, I really enjoyed her SHROUD OF DARKNESS and have a few more in the pipeline.

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  3. I have not read anything by this author yet, but my husband read Murder by Matchlight and liked it and I will borrow it sometime.

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