Clippings from the Past: Ask a Policeman by E.C.R. Lorac (1955)

Ron Stanforth, a young author, looking around for inspiration, chances to see a woman who seems to have stepped straight out of the Edwardian era. Fascinated by her attire and deportment and carriage, Roy asks the lady if he could help her in any way. The lady informs him that she is one Mary Moffat and has recently arrived from Australia to meet her nephew, Keith McAmboine. who was part of Anzac and settled in England after the war (the first one) had ended. However, when she reached his place of residence, Rosetta Towers, she was told that no person of that name stayed over there. The old lady now wants to take the help of police to locate her nephew. Could Ron please direct her to the nearest police station? Ron, not only does so but also tells her to call him in case she needs any help. Miss Moffat thanks him graciously, goes to the police station and tells the Seargent about her missing nephew. He assures her that he would start investigating.

Rosetta Towers is the residence of Rosetta Ransom, once a celluloid goddess, but now a paralysed woman looked after by her close companion, Connie Carstairs. As acting assignments dried up, Rosetta is rumoured to have sold her fabled jewellery and other assets. It is also rumoured that during the lean war-years (the second one), Rosetta took in her home a number of unsavoury characters. However, when Rosetta had her stroke, Connie moved into the house and threw out those spongers and hangers-on and instead let out the rooms to bright young things. When Inspector Baring reaches the house, Connie tells him plainly that there never was anybody called Keith McAmboine who lived in the house. However, the vehement way in which she denies it makes the Inspector suspicious. A feeling that is shared by the young tenants of Rosetta Towers.

Meanwhile, Ron sniffing a mystery, calls on a number of journalists if they have ever heard of a demobbed Australian soldier, Keith McAmboine. As there is one space still available for rent, he too settles in Rosetta Towers along with his sister. Three months after these events which occur in February, the body of a man is fished out from the Thames. There is nothing to identify him but for an Australian sovereign in one pocket. That brings Superintendent Macdonald to the scene. Could this be the missing nephew? But Mary Moffat had called the police station the very next day to say that she had received communication from Australia that her nephew had reached there. However, now Mary Moffat herself seems to have disappeared. As police investigations regarding the identity of the dead man increase, the tenants of Rosetta Towers who had lived in pleasant harmony find themselves getting suspicious and irritable. Just what secret does the house hold?

[ A note on the song from which the title is taken]

After a few middling mysteries by Lorac, I really enjoyed this book, There is atmosphere, a lot of archival research, a look at the past and the changed present, and a sympathetic nod to aged people. I half guessed the identity of the murderer but one particular thing really made me suspicious and laugh out loud as the suspicions came true since I have been reading about that a lot lately in mysteries. Over all, an interesting book which had me hooked from the beginning. I only wish there were fewer characters in it because some of them seemed simply superfluous and played absolutely no role in the mystery but, of course, one had to try and remember them when their names cropped up.


First Line: When Ron Stanforth first saw Miss Moffat’s tall erect figure on the other side of the road he felt suddenly cheered up: he had been grumbling to himself that everybody he met looked equally commonplace and lacking in individuality.

Publication Details: 1955. London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1955

Series: Chief Inspector Macdonald #41

Pages: 192

Other books read of the same author: (Among others) The Slippery Staircase


9 thoughts on “Clippings from the Past: Ask a Policeman by E.C.R. Lorac (1955)

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