Cover Image: Crook o' Lune

Crook o' Lune

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Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed an E.C.R. Lorac book from the Golden Age of Mysteries, especially for its use of sheep country in Lancashire as a key component of the story.

Chief Inspector MacDonald is visiting friends and considering perhaps purchasing a farm for his retirement years when he gets involved in investigating a residential arson which resulted in a death and sheep stealing.

This is a book with tremendous (and beautiful) descriptions and a leisurely pace (and I don't mean this as a criticism, it's one of the book's strengths). A Lorac book is always a treasure, a book to be savored. I'm so thankful that the British Library Crime Classics brings back such excellent old mysteries.

Highly recommended!!

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I would like to thank netgalley and poisoned pen press for a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Just lost interest.

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My thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

Crook O’ Lune (1953) is as much a book of Lancashire’s farms and fells as it is a (murder) mystery featuring Edith Caroline Rivett or E. C. R. Lorac’s Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald, with Lorac’s wonderful powers of description bringing the place (which she herself called home) alive.

Our story open with Gilbert Woolfall making his way to Aikengill, the old stone house he has inherited after the recent death of his uncle Thomas.

It was a glorious spring evening, the sun still gilding the crests of the high fells, though the valley was already in shadows. At first, the steep narrow road ran between hedgerows in which the first blackthorn was spreading a mist of white, and the willow catkins were blobs of gold, but after a couple of miles the hedgerows gave way to dry-stone walls, the arable land dropped behind and the road rose even more steeply to the open fellside. There was a cattle grid across the road at the top of the hill, in addition to the gate which used to bar the road: stone walls ran to right and left as far as the eye could see, dividing the cultivated land from the rough sheep pasture.

Gilbert is a city-man, with an established business, but visits Aikengill whenever he can, feeling a connection to the place which prevents him from simply selling it, yet well aware that on his own he is in no position to take up farming. Aikengill is looked after by the housekeeper Mrs Ramsden, she too unable to leave though she is wanted to look after an ailing relative. As we are introduced to the small village and its few inhabitants who live in a few farms spread out across the village, we see the rector Mr Tupper is not well-liked and holds a grudge against old Thomas Woolfall for not leaving any bequest for the church. Some other residents are also interested in what is to become of Aikengill, either for purchase or employment.

Meanwhile Chief Inspector Macdonald himself arrives in Lunesdale, to visit his friends the Hoggetts (Giles and Kate), with the intention of finding and purchasing a farm for himself which he can eventually retire to (we also learn that he knows his cows well). Needless to say, this dream does turn into a busman’s holiday as some strange events take place, some sheep thefts around the area for starters, and followed by arson at Aikengill. This latter is complicated by the death of poor Mrs Ramsden who was supposed to be away from Aikengill when the fire took place. Macdonald is roped in, initially just as ‘consultant’, as the local Chief Inspector Bord wishes to take advantage of his expertise, but that pretence is dropped soon and he is officially deputed to work on it.

I’ve only just begun exploring E. C. R. Lorac’s books but like the previous one I read Shroud of Darkness, her powers of description stood out in this one as well. Whether it be the countryside, beautiful (as seen from the quote above) yet unrelenting and difficult to navigate, life in the farms themselves, attractive on the one side, yet with many hardships from early days and sleepless nights to the fragile sheep and cattle, or the weather itself, the snow cutting off people from any help, and consequently, life. This is, as Martin Edwards points out in his helpful introduction, the place which Lorac made her home, and her love for it shines through, also highlighting how the loveliness and peaceful atmosphere belies the popular perceptions of ‘industrial’ Lancaster.

The mystery is a slower one in the sense that the initial developments, whether the sheep thefts or the fire at Aikengill with a death that appears accidental doesn’t follow the course of the usual murder mystery, as Macdonald begins to look into the matter and more developments take place, we begin to see how the different pieces of information, relationships and equations made known to us all through do have a bearing on the answers we get at the end (and like the usual murder mystery there are other deaths/attempts as well). The solution and explanation were nicely done, not unexpected (the person was a possible suspect) yet not one I could have worked out entirely either.

Even though this is a small village with few characters, the ones we meet are well drawn out and distinctive; there is also a good sense of the period in terms of shadows of the war and its consequences still visible.

I also enjoyed how the ‘Crook’ of the title could refer to so many things, whether that in the river which Macdonald observes, or the shepherd’s crook, or indeed the kind Macdonald deals with, as he himself notes.

A very enjoyable title by Lorac and I’m glad that the British Library Crime Classics series has brought back so many of her titles back in print, which I will be continuing to explore.

4.5 stars

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There are certain older mysteries that are being reprinted, which hit the mark more accurately for me than others. Some I managed to pursue for longer, but in the past couple of years, getting my hands on them has been harder. Recently more of E.C.R. Lorac's works have been popping up on NetGalley, much to my delight.
When I started this book, I was not sure if I was going to like it as much as I liked certain others. I even abandoned it halfway and had to pick it up later. Once the story background was set, the ending felt refreshingly unique.
When we enter the narrative, we meet a man who is going into a home which he has inherited. It is a comfortable home, and there is much that needs to be decided about the future of the land and the house itself. For a significant portion of the following pages, we wander amongst the people and their thoughts. On later reflection, I realised that the whole effect was purposeful since I left with a very strong feeling about what the village and its inhabitants were like and what the recent events might have meant to them.
Chief Inspector Macdonald(a recurring protagonist in the author's works, but who does not refer much to other cases, so can be read as a standalone) is in the neighbourhood on holiday as he is planning a future retirement into a farming-adjacent life. He is called to the site of a fire where a woman is found dead since he is available. Once he looks at the scene and meets all the people associated with the area, he starts to get ideas. People reach out to him because he is unbiased since he is just visiting. This spurs him into action.
I did not expect the events of the second half, nor did I expect to be so involved in the way things turned out. Given the pacing in the beginning, I thought I would just be relieved to see the end of things, but the people grew on me, and I would recommend this to fans of the author, the genre and who have some patience for the slower books.
I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley and the publishers, but the review is entirely based on my own reading experience.

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I don't know how many more books by ECR Lorac are in the British Library Crime Classics vault, but I hope there are still plenty there and that editor Martin Edwards keeps serving them up. Chief Inspector Robert MacDonald is back, this time drawn into a mystery involving sheep theft, arson and murder while on a pleasure trip to Lancashire. As always with Lorac, the mystery is well plotted and compelling, but it is Lorac's gorgeous descriptions of the countryside in which these plots play out and the town life within it that keeps me coming back for more. Recommended for readers who like their cosy British mysteries with a bit of edge.

Thank you to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for providing me with this ARC in return for my honest review. A pleasure!

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Chief Inspector Macdonald was looking into retirement prospects while on vacation. He encountered more than he expected. With the mystery of the disappearing sheep and the fiery death of a local housekeeper, it looked like his job had followed him. Up against a close-mouthed community that wasn’t much help, Chief Inspector Macdonald had to rely on his skills and experience in searching for clues. One thing for sure, he had a darn good workout, trekking high and low in search of clues. This story was a mildly intriguing mystery.

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1953. Inspector Robert MacDonald is on holiday at the home of the Hoggetts in Lancashire when he becomes interested in several events before becoming involved officially. That of sheep theft, and a house fire resulting in a death.
An entertaining and well-written slow paced, historical mystery with its likeable characters. Another enjoyable addition to this series.
An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The story of Crook O'lune takes place in the rural setting of the Lune Valley. The area is described in detail and there is a long history to the area. Gilbert Woolfall has inherited a house but since he doesn't live there he only comes once in a while to check on things. There is a question of whether he will sell the house. Several people inquire about it. While he is away at one point there is a fire and someone is killed. Inspector Robert Macdonald is in the area looking for a house and so happens to be on hand when the fire occurs. Soon it becomes clear it was no accident.

As he begins to investigate other strange things happen including sheep being stolen. There are a lot of details to be uncovered in this mystery.

I would describe this as slower paced which matches the setting. There is a calm, chatty tone to the writing. I think this will be enjoyed by those who love reading about countryside life with a mystery thrown in..

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Mystery readers owe a huge debt to the publishers of the British Library Crime Classics series, and an inestimable debt to Martin Edwards, the editor, and author of the interesting and much needed introductions. I have been enjoying these brought back into print mystery authors of the Golden Age, both the novels and the anthologies of short stories.

One of my favorites of these almost forgotten writers is E C R Lorac, one of the many pen names of Edith Rivett. Her main detective is Inspector Robert Macdonald of Scotland Yard. In this book, Macdonald, who comes from a farming background, is in Lancashire looking around the Lune Valley for a small farm to buy for his contemplated retirement. Rivett herself lived in the Lune Valley, and "Crook O' Lune" is full of marvelous descriptions of the rural life there.

Naturally, there are crimes when Macdonald is visiting, and he is asked to consult on the case. Please read the blurb and don't count on me for spoilers; I hate them and I am not going to give any.

"Crook O'Lune" was a truly enjoyable read, as much for the great pleasure of reading what life was like for smallholders and sheep farmers in this postwar (1953) rural corner of Britain, as for the mystery. Lorac writes with great affection and knowledge of her part of the world, making the reader wish it were possible to step back in time.

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E. C. R. Lorac fell in love with the Fell Country in Lancashire and settled down there. That love comes through in this book that she sets in the same area and even uses her own house as the basis for where the crime occurs. While the story has a slow pace, and the sense of place is probably the star of the piece, the characters are interesting and the mystery strong, enough that I didn't figure it all out. There is a nice explanation of all the ins and outs at the end if you don't get all the intricacies as you were reading.

A nice addition to the British Crime Classics. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest opinion.

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Originally posted on my blog Nonstop Reader.

Crook o'Lune is a re-release of a classic golden age mystery by E.C.R. Lorac published in the British Library Crime Classics series by Poisoned Pen Press. Originally released in 1953, this is the 38th book featuring Chief Inspector Robert MacDonald. Reformatted and re-released 11th July 2023, it's 256 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. Many (most?) of these re-printings include an erudite and thoughtful introduction by mystery maven Martin Edwards and this one is no exception. It's always worth the price of admission to read Mr. Edwards' background information and context notes for these volumes.

This is a classic post WW2 mystery set in and around the Fells in Lancashire. MacDonald is visiting with an eye to finding a small farm on which to retire, and winds up being called in to help solve a local case of sheep theft, arson, and murder. There are hidden motives and interrelationships among the residents which come to light gradually over time.

The author was remarkably talented at descriptive prose and the sense of setting, the moors, the village, the people, are all finely drawn. The local accents can be a bit over the top, but they are faithfully rendered. I really enjoy reading MacDonald's interactions and witty dialogue with his colleagues and others he comes in contact with.

This is a solidly entertaining mystery and it wears its age (65+ years) surprisingly well.

Four stars.

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Aikengill is a much sought after property in Lunesdale. Gilbert Woolfall has recently inherited this remote farmhouse, but has yet to decide it’s future. And there are many whose fates could hinge on his decision. But then Aikengill catches, with fatal consequences.

It just so happens that Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald has returned to Lunesdale to visit friends. He’s also looking to find himself a property to settle down in when he retires from Scotland Yard. But he is soon drawn into investigating the death at Aikengill, as well as some sheep stealing that’s been occurring in the area.

I’ve long been a fan of Lorac and the depth she brings to her stories. Whether it’s the busy streets of London or the quiet of the Lunesdale fells, through vivid descriptions, subtle detail, and authentic characterizations Lorac always brings to life a world in which the reader can immerse themselves. And Crook O’Lune is no exception. Here, she paints a vivid picture of post WWII Britain, giving the reader glimpses into the changing landscape of rural life in the early 1950s.

Lorac also gives us more Macdonald. If you’ve read Fell Murder (1944) or Still Waters (1949), your aware of his love for the countryside, farming, and farmers. Usually we experience him merely via his thought process regarding an investigation. But here, as he interacts with friends, colleagues, witnesses, and suspects the reader begins to see that there is more to him than just the Chief Inspector.

The mystery is complex, but easy to follow along with. It is also unfolds slowly, which may be a bit off-putting for some. I for one thoroughly enjoyed the more leisurely pacing, as well as all of the detail provided as it gave depth to the characters and their stories, both good and bad. While there are few red herrings and even fewer clues for the reader to piece together in order to uncover the culprit, the story and the final solution are all very plausible and satisfying.

A definite winner and now one of my favorites from E. C. R. Lorac.

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Crook o' Lune by E.C.R. Lorac first published in 1953, is set in her favourite place: Lunesdale in Lancashire. Lorac moved to the valley during WWII, to be close to her sister, and fell in love with the place. There are very few mystery writers who can really infuse their books with a sense of the location. George Bellairs can do it with the Isle of Man and the South of France; and Lorac can do it with Lunesdale. I have never been to Lunesdale but her vivid description of the place by day and at night makes it easy to picture. As well as describing the locale, Lorac can also conjure up houses. The house at the centre of this mystery, Aikengill, was Lorac’s own house, Newbanks, so it’s no wonder she can describe it so well.

According to Martin Edwards’s excellent introduction, this is the third time Chief Inspector Macdonald has visited Lunesdale. I read about his first visit in Fell Murder but haven’t read about his second visit, told in Lorac’s The Theft of the Iron Dogs. Fortunately, the British Library aim to issue that shortly, although one wonders why they didn’t issue that before Crook O’Lune. The chronology does matter a little, as characters from the second book reappear in the third, although I didn’t spot any of the characters from the first book making a reappearance. You might think this a little surprising: if you consider Bellairs again, or Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, their detectives often have one or more members of a supporting cast popping up in various books. Bellairs’ Manx taxi-driver, Teddy Looney, and the house-keeper, Maggie Keggin; and Miss Marple’s nephew, Raymond West, spring to mind. However, the effect of the recurring characters emphasises the cosiness of the mystery: there is a norm, a continuity, that the crime has disturbed. Detective Inspector Littlejohn, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot will solve the mystery so that they and their friends can settle back and the norm is restored. Lorac typically doesn’t do that. Her mysteries are not cosy (whatever “cosy” may mean!) and the disruption caused by the crime may be permanent. By allowing a few characters from The Theft of the Iron Dogs to reappear, I think she wants to give that element of permanence / continuity here because the setting meant so much to her. This is where she felt settled and she wants us to feel it too.

I think this is an excellent book and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who likes detective stories of the 1940s/50s/60s. The war is over but there are still echoes: the food rationing, for example; and the happy acceptance that one might walk several miles to get to a destination. Very atmospheric!

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As the introduction of this book warns, this is a pretty slow-paced story, with lots of descriptions of the countryside taking up a lot of the space. It was an enjoyable read but took me a long time to get through. It's the kind of book you have to be in the mood for to be able to focus on it.

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Even if it's not one my favorite Lorac it kept me turning pages and surprising till the end.
The love of the author for the places is vivid and she creates a lot of images of hills, wood and places I would like to visit.
The mystery is complex and there's a lot of twists and the solution was unexpected.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher for this ARC, all opinions are mine

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3.75 stars

A classic British village mystery, set in the 50s in rural England. Chief Inspector MacDonald is taking some vacation time in Lancashire, pondering the idea of acquiring some land and a few cows after he retires. He is staying with friends and just looking for some peace and quiet and time alone in the countryside.

But -- it doesn't work out that way. The locals are plagued by sheep thefts, serious business, and then an arson fire kills a local woman and soon MacDonald is involved. the characterizations in this series are nicely done, and the knowledgeable and affectionate descriptions of the countryside are wonderful. For fans of this genre of mystery, highly satisfactory. I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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Crook o' Lune is a smashing Golden Age mystery published in 1953 and set in glorious Lancashire, dripping with atmosphere and rich historical details. Sheep stealing, arson and murder liven up the otherwise idyllic rural area. Aikengill House is bequeathed to accountant Gilbert Woolfall by his uncle. He is uncertain whether he will remain there or not or whether he will allow someone to live there. There is a peculiar sudden interest in the house from many neighbours who have their own reasons for wanting it. Are the secrets worth murdering for? The suspect list is varied and Chief Inspector MacDonald has his hands full as he questions and gains the their trust. The author had me guessing and second-guessing until the clever ending.

The plot is wonderful but the vivid setting, vernacular and quirky characters roped me in just as much. I could envision the house and scenery and got lost in the story. The sheep connections including names are lovely, especially as I grew up on a farm where we raised sheep.

Smitten with Golden Age mysteries? Do immerse yourself in this wonderful novel. Lorac had such a special way with words, truly magical. On the rare occasions I see her name come up at a used book sale, I grab the book immediately, regardless of the title as I know what treasures they are.

My sincere thank you to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy of this British Library Crime Classic by a favourite author of mine, a title I had not before encountered.

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"Crook o' Lune" is a mystery set in England that was published in 1953. The author wove in a lot of interesting setting details about the hills, the house, and the people. I suspect it would have been easier to solve this puzzle mystery if I'd written down all the 'who was doing what and when' clues. They became a muddle to keep track of by memory. I still correctly guessed whodunit based on other clues, but several suspects were possibilities until all of the clues were laid out at the end. Chief Inspector MacDonald knew how to gain the local's trust and get the information he needed to solve the mystery. He asked good questions and looked at angles that the local detective hadn't looked into. The characters were varied and interesting. There were only a few uses of bad language. There were no sex scenes. Overall, I would recommend this interesting mystery.

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A stone house Aikengill is what the story revolves around. It has been in existence
from the 1700s and its history has been well documented and is an integral part of the

The present owner has inherited it from his uncle and though he loves tye isolation
and the lifestyle of this part of Lancashire, he has still not made up his mind as to
the house and his future. <br>

Coincidentally Chief Inspector Macdonald is visiting the area because he is very keen on
finding a retirement home and farm for himself. The unexpected sheep stealing is a new
phenomenon which is worrying the locals and when Aikengill is set alight causing the death
of the housekeeper, all detectives are on the case.

It was not the detection alone that drew me in. The wealth of history in the house and
church records (which were part of the story) , the sturdy characters of sheep farmers, even
the language used was so different and though slow, was never boring. I will be coming
back to this author very soon.

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With more crimes and misdemeanours than murderous shenanigans this wonderful little novel offers us a compelling portrait of provincial Lancashire after WWII. A delicious fictional slice of rural pettiness and deceitfulness brilliantly plotted and superbly choreographed around an impeccable cast ensemble.
E.C.R. Lorac will remain one of my best literary discoveries of 2023....

It's starting to really look like I simply can't get enough of British Library Crime Classics in my life!

Many thanks to Poisoned Pen and Netgalley for this terrific ARC!

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