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ECR Lorac - Carol Carnac Biography

A Brief History

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ECR Lorac and Carol Carnac are the pseudonyms of Edith Caroline Rivett-Carnac. There seems to be little known of her life, other than that she was born in London in 1884 and attended the School of Arts and Crafts, also in London.

We have seen a letter from the author (signed 'Carol') dated 8 November 1940, from which it is apparant that she was living at that time at the Thurlestone Hotel in Thurlestone, South Devon. It seems that she was evacuated from London with a boarding school called Raven's Croft. She remarks that "the combination of boarding school and luxury hotel is even more fatuous than the establishments separately!" In later years she was a member of the Detection Club. This is, sadly, all we know of her life and if anyone has further information, we should be only too pleased to hear from them.

There are twenty-three Carol Carnac books and forty-eight ECR Lorac books, the first being The Murder on the Burrows, under the Lorac pseudonym, which was published by Sampson Low in 1931. It featured her main series charcter, Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald, 'a London Scot' and bachelor with a love for walking the English countryside. Macdonald had an assistant, Detective Inspector Reeves who appeared in twenty-eight of the forty-six Macdonald books. They were a formidable team and, whilst diverse characters, as all good detective fiction partnerships have to be, they complemented each other well. All of the Lorac books were first published in London but, incredibly, twenty-four titles were not published in the USA.

The first Carol Carnac book, Triple Death, was published by Thornton Butterworth in 1936 and featured Inspector Ryvet, the first of three series characters under the Carnac name. Carnac's other two main characters were Chief Inspector Julian Rivers of Scotland Yard, who appeared in fifteen books, and his assistant, Inspector Lancing, who appeared in eighteen cases (four with Ryvet).

The novels are all generally well plotted and set against attractive period backgrounds. The only real criticism, the perennial one with detective fiction, is a lack of descriptive depth and colour to the main series characters. Both the Lorac and Carnac books are very collectable today, with early titles in jacket especially sought after. The books have also benefitted from some superb dustwrapper artwork, including, in my opinion, one of the greatest jackets ever -
Bats in the Belfry published by Collins Crime Club in 1937. Many of the leading jacket designers provided designs including Morton Sale on Murder on the Burrows, Youngman Carter on The Case of Colonel Marchand and Stead whose work included the fabulous wrapper for
Tryst for a Tragedy amongst others.

In summary, both ECR Lorac, and to a slightly lesser extent, Carol Carnac remain very important and influential in the Golden Age genre, as well as being amongst the most collectable of detective fiction authors.

ECR Lorac Bibliography

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Text © 2004 R.D. Collins


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