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Bats in the Belfry (Robert MacDonald #13)
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Group reads > October 2020 - Bats in the Belfry - SPOILER Thread

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Susan | 10099 comments Mod
Welcome to our October group read Bats in the Belfry: A London Mystery Bats in the Belfry A London Mystery by E.C.R. Lorac by E.C.R. Lorac

Published in 1937 this is the 13th title in the Robert MacDonald series by E.C.R. Lorac; pen name of Edith Caroline Rivett.

Bruce Attleton dazzled London s literary scene with his first two novels but his early promise did not bear fruit. His wife Sybilla is a glittering actress, unforgiving of Bruce s failure, and the couple lead separate lives in their house at Regent s Park. When Bruce is called away on a sudden trip to Paris, he vanishes completely until his suitcase and passport are found in a sinister artist s studio, the Belfry, in a crumbling house in Notting Hill. Inspector Macdonald must uncover Bruce s secrets, and find out the identity of his mysterious blackmailer. This intricate mystery from a classic writer is set in a superbly evoked London of the 1930s.

Please feel free to post spoilers in this thread.


Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2084 comments I liked this a lot, liking the way we are told MacDonald's thoughts and theories, so we can have an opinion on them. There were a lot of crimes covered besides murder, infidelity, blackmail and impersonations., making it a complicated plot. I think the author captured the feel of the thick fogs of the time, and the atmosphere of an old, condemned building which was a feature.


Roman Clodia | 826 comments There's a lot going on in this one, as Jill says, and I liked the feeling that Lorac was having fun writing it. It really is crazy in terms of plot, characters and genre tropes which all get thrown in together. Macdonald works well to add a down-to-earth element amidst all the battiness!


message 4: by Susan in NC (last edited Oct 01, 2020 07:34AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2937 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "There's a lot going on in this one, as Jill says, and I liked the feeling that Lorac was having fun writing it. It really is crazy in terms of plot, characters and genre tropes which all get thrown..."

Yes! I liked his wry attitude with his fellow officers, the doctor at the hospital - but the doc teasing him about being a Scot, was that just prejudice of the time, or is there still some anti-Scottish feeling? I wondered because I saw a BBC article about a Scots actor recently saying he faced prejudice when he first came to work in London.

Loved the spooky description of the Belfry - I don’t think I’d want to live next door to that thing!


Rosina (rosinarowantree) | 773 comments Susan in NC wrote: "the doc teasing him about being a Scot, was that just prejudice of the time, or is there still some anti-Scottish feeling? "

There is of course anti-English sentiment to be seen in some advocates of Scottish Independence (the Braveheart band), and some (possibly retaliatory) anti-Scottish prejudice in England, but in general it's just the British tendency to rib people as a sign of comradeship.


message 6: by Susan in NC (last edited Oct 01, 2020 08:31AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2937 comments Thanks, that’s what I figured! It was funny when Macdonald was trying to hit himself in the head with the cosh to see if It could be done...at least he was in hospital if he succeeded!


Sandy | 2833 comments Mod
Susan in NC wrote: "Thanks, that’s what I figured! It was funny when Macdonald was trying to hit himself in the head with the cosh to see if It could be done...at least he was in hospital if he succeeded!"

And I just loved the doctor's sarcasm, when asked to do his best for Robert, that they usually just killed off the more serious patients in the elevator when they were over crowded. (It is phrased a lot better by Lorac.)


Sandy | 2833 comments Mod
I loved the book but was disappointed in the resolution: too many long lost relatives popping up for my taste. And then there was the coincidence of the murderer being best friends with his unknown cousin. (Did I miss an explanation?) However I look forward to reading more Lorac as I really like the settings, humor, characters and Macdonald.


Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2937 comments Yes, I enjoyed the humor in this one! Gallows humor, I know, but I think that appeals to people who work in the law enforcement and health care trenches every day.


Sandy | 2833 comments Mod
Susan in NC wrote: "Yes, I enjoyed the humor in this one! Gallows humor, I know, but I think that appeals to people who work in the law enforcement and health care trenches every day."

I agree and Dalglish's intolerance of it annoys me. (mixing my series here but I did read them back-to-back without a break)


Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2937 comments Sandy wrote: "Susan in NC wrote: "Yes, I enjoyed the humor in this one! Gallows humor, I know, but I think that appeals to people who work in the law enforcement and health care trenches every day."

I agree and..."


I read dalgliesh years ago and enjoyed, but i admit, the lack of humor made me skip a reread - it has been a tough few years and I need entertainment and escapism right now!


message 12: by Judy (last edited Oct 02, 2020 01:55PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9052 comments Mod
Sandy wrote: "I loved the book but was disappointed in the resolution: too many long lost relatives popping up for my taste. And then there was the coincidence of the murderer being best friends with his unknown..."

Same, this reminded me of one or two Christie books where too many people are related. The disguise plot also didn't work well for me - it was all a bit far-fetched and disappointing.

I was also taken aback at the element of anti-Semitism in the resolution, with the character who wants to keep his Jewish background a secret. There is anti-Semitism in many books from this era, sadly, but I haven't come across it in the other couple of Lorac books I've read.


Sandy | 2833 comments Mod
Judy wrote: "Sandy wrote: "I loved the book but was disappointed in the resolution: too many long lost relatives popping up for my taste. And then there was the coincidence of the murderer being best friends wi..."

While I agree that there is anti-Semitism in the comments much of it seems to be on the part of the widow who is universally hated.


Tania | 432 comments I liked this one, but I agree that the resolution was a bit disappointing. I guessed who it was, not because I was being terrifically clever in putting all the clues together, but because he seemed the only one not suspected. I did enjoy the atmosphere conjured up in the story.


message 15: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9052 comments Mod
Tania wrote: "I liked this one, but I agree that the resolution was a bit disappointing. I guessed who it was, not because I was being terrifically clever in putting all the clues together, but because he seemed the only one not suspected...."

Yes, me too - the lack of suspicion for him made him an obvious culprit!


message 16: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2084 comments I agree. I suspected him for quite some time, but was disappointed that I was right.


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 844 comments Well, I finished at last, and did not like it as much as Fell Murder. The plot seemed holier (in the sense of having more holes in it), all hinging on Mary Anne being quite excessively fertile and her offspring all deciding independently that Alsace was not for them, England was the place to be, and some not aware of one another’s existence. I suspected the culprit based on the detective sharing too much info with him, though the way Macdonald was leading him by the nose was not clear to me till near the end (the passports). Everything seemed a bit too much of a stretch.


Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2937 comments “Holier” as in more holes, I like that!😂


message 19: by Bicky (new)

Bicky | 332 comments This was my first Lorac and was quite enjoyable despite a weak plot. Can you imagine after one cousin is convicted or thought to be guilty if dead, the victim's best friend announcing that he too is a long lost cousin! And heir to a fortune they have no assurance is being left intestate!


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 844 comments Yes, I agree, Lorac is a good writer, with clear descriptions, sharply drawn characters, and good dialogue. Those skills got me through this one despite my quibbles with the setup and denouement.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Abigail wrote: "Alsace was not for them, England was the place to be,"

War will do that. Must have been about the time when the Germans won back that section from France that Debrette's and Rockingham's parents were born.

And of course there was all that family feuding to make sure no one knew of or talked to each other. It's almost a stretch that Rockingham was able to trace all of the lineages and find his cousins.


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 844 comments Good point about external events!


Elizabeth (Alaska) I liked this one, maybe more than a few of you have expressed. It is only my 2nd Lorac, the other being Murder in Vienna. I like the way Lorac writes and I like MacDonald. I especially like how we know his thinking as we go along. I didn't try to figure out the murderer, just went along for the ride.


message 24: by Bicky (new)

Bicky | 332 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: " I like the way Lorac writes and I like MacDonald. I especially like how we know his thinking as we go along. I didn't try to figure out the murderer, just went along for the ride."

I agree. I plan on reading others.


Roman Clodia | 826 comments I think it was the crazy goings on and batty (ha!) atmosphere that I enjoyed in this one - Lorac just seems to be having so much fun with some of those conventions of the genre like how to hide a body, and disguises and identities.


message 26: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2084 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "I think it was the crazy goings on and batty (ha!) atmosphere that I enjoyed in this one - Lorac just seems to be having so much fun with some of those conventions of the genre like how to hide a b..."

Yes, I think her style lets her get away with it, whereas, other authors who throw so much in, wouldn't have the same affect.


message 27: by Bicky (new)

Bicky | 332 comments I enjoyed : ""Well, if he’s not a particular pal of yours I’ll admit I think he’s borrowed a bat or two from the belfry..."


Elizabeth (Alaska) I wondered all along if the perpetrator was also responsible for the death of the cousin and the older brother. Macdonald also wonders. What say you?


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 844 comments Probably at least the Australian cousin with the failed brakes. The perpetrator was around long enough for it and seems to have a penchant for messing with other people’s cars. How disappointed crime writers must have been when the locking hood/bonnet was introduced!


Elizabeth (Alaska) Abigail wrote: "How disappointed crime writers must have been when the locking hood/bonnet was introduced!"

I think one can still do things to the brakes.


Tania | 432 comments I did think he was responsible for the brake failure, and probably the older brother too.


Sandy | 2833 comments Mod
I also assumed he had been wiping out his extended family for years.


message 33: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9052 comments Mod
Ooh yes, this was something that annoyed me, the fact that we never find this out! I thought he must have killed the cousin.


Michaela | 361 comments Finished this, and didn´t like it as much as Fell Murder and Murder in the Mill-Race. Especially the end was rather put-on, and not all the threads were merged.


Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2937 comments Tania wrote: "I did think he was responsible for the brake failure, and probably the older brother too."

Agree, I got the impression he was also responsible- under the twin principles of “killed once, gets easier to kill again”, and “if additional people attached to a family scandal, fortune, etc.have died under mysterious or unclear circumstances, assume it’s the killer who did it”.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I was sort of surprised that the cause of the brake failure wasn't investigated.


message 37: by Susan in NC (last edited Oct 11, 2020 08:53AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2937 comments Michaela wrote: "Finished this, and didn´t like it as much as Fell Murder and Murder in the Mill-Race. Especially the end was rather put-on, and not all the threads were merged."

I agree with you and Abigail- something about the setting and circumstances of the Lorac mysteries I’ve read where Macdonald is an outsider (Fell Murder, Millrace, and Fire in the Thatch: A Devon Mystery), comes along and takes in the locale, the setting, and the characters alongside the reader, is vastly appealing, as Lorac writes it all. I enjoyed this and Murder by Matchlight for the 1930s London, and subsequent London wartime settings, because she created such an atmosphere and let us see Macdonald on his home turf.

But I agree, while the “Macdonald abroad” books may not have as much comradely humor with his fellow officers as the London books, they allow him to be like us, the reader - total outsiders, looking into this evocative place and time, where suspects have been molded by their circumstances and relationships to the place, culminating in a murder. I’ve not been disappointed by her yet, I enjoy both types, as long as the unassuming but no-nonsense Macdonald is my guide! I look forward to trying her other detective (when I can find one Of those books), to see if I like him as much.


Roman Clodia | 826 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "I was sort of surprised that the cause of the brake failure wasn't investigated."

Me too - as an unexpected death and a Will and inheritance got my detective antennae waving madly!


message 39: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9052 comments Mod
Susan in NC wrote: " I enjoy both types, as long as the unassuming but no-nonsense Macdonald is my guide! I look forward to trying her other detective (when I can find one Of those books), to see if I like him as much...."

So far the one I've read with her other detective, Julian Rivers, Crossed Skis: An Alpine Mystery, was my favourite of the 3 I've read by her -it moves to and fro between post-war London and a great setting in the Austrian Alps. I don't think the detective (who has yet another version of her own name!) was all that different from Macdonald, though.


Frances (francesab) | 389 comments I really enjoyed this as well, it was my first Lorac and I plan to read more.

Was anything ever said to explain the fire in Dinah? I rather liked Elizabeth, and hoped we’d see more of her.


Pamela (bibliohound) | 368 comments I’ve just finished this, I liked it too although I agree that the plot wasn’t the tightest, too many coincidences. I suspected the culprit from the time that his friend got ‘attacked’ in the Belfry when he was the only one with him. I wasn’t really sure why he tried to run away at the end, MacDonald put it down to overplanning, and he was definitely on to him, but I wasn’t convinced.


message 42: by Piyangie (last edited Oct 17, 2020 03:43AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Piyangie | 116 comments This was my first Lorac, and I liked it. But there were some lose threads which weren't tied at the end, for example the fall of the buttler and the cause of the break failure.


message 43: by Tara (last edited Oct 25, 2020 02:01PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tara  | 812 comments I was confused how Rockingham died. Did he shoot himself when he was about to be caught? I enjoyed the book thoroughly, although I agree with others that the level of coincidences were a bit too much.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Tara wrote: "that the level of coincidences were a bit too much.."

I don't think these are intended to be realistic.


message 45: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9052 comments Mod
Glad you enjoyed it, Tara! I've been thinking I will try another by Lorac soon, as there are several on Scribd.


message 46: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9052 comments Mod
Must confess I don't remember now how Rockingham dies - can anyone else shed light on that?


Elizabeth (Alaska) Pretty sure he shot himself.


Susan in NC (susanncreader) | 2937 comments Judy wrote: "Must confess I don't remember now how Rockingham dies - can anyone else shed light on that?"

I thought maybe he wrecked the car as he was trying to escape, died in the crash?


Elizabeth (Alaska) Wasn't he on foot and shooting his gun? Maybe too many books between reading and now.


message 50: by Rosina (last edited Oct 25, 2020 03:43PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rosina (rosinarowantree) | 773 comments Rockingham abandons the car in traffic, and runs into a network of narrow alleys, until he is apparently trapped in a yard:

"The flying figure in front swung round to the right and then turned sharply into an alleyway leading to a small yard. Instinctively
Macdonald feinted, and crouched low as he overran to the far side of the opening instead of turning sharp into it, and a shot went over his head. Almost bent double, he jumped, leaping forward with outstretched arms and head low, and caught his antagonist round the knees as a second shot went wide. The two men came down together, and a third shot rang out as the hand which held the pistol struck the ground in falling, and a deep groan followed. A second later Macdonald was able to see the face of the man he had pursued. With black wig awry, and runnels of sweat making light lines down the swarthy cheeks, Neil Rockingham’s ghastly face looked up at him. A phrase flashed across Macdonald’s mind as, panting, he bent instinctively to the work of first aid to the wounded, “Logical reconstruction number five.”"

E. C. R. Lorac. Bats in the Belfry (Kindle Locations 2863-2868). Kindle Edition.

My reading is that Rockingham fires at Macdonald, twice, then when Macdonald tackles him (a proper rugby tackle,. by the sound of it) the gun goes off and the bullet hits him somewhere slowly fatal. Hence the groan, and the first aid - and later, the priest. There is no suggestion that he was injured before he started running from the car.


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