Dr Raymond Ferens and his wife move to Milham in the Moor in North Devon. Milham is an idyllic small town and the husband-wife duo like the place very much. On the day of their arrival, they are visited by Sister Monica. Sister Monica is in charge of a children’s home known as Gramarye. Anne Ferens dislikes her immediately, stating that the lady was lurking behind the window, listening to their chat. Also, the Sister is all smiles with an evil look in her eyes.
A few months later, Sister Monica is found dead. Her head is bashed in and her body is found floating in the mill-race. The villagers seem to be all praises for Sister Monica. “Her was wonderful, her was holy, that was us Sister Monica” they chant. But who wanted to kill the ‘wonderful and holy’ Sister Monica? Chief Inspector MacDonald is called in to investigate the case.
This is the first E.C.R. Lorac book that I read. I won’t say this was a disappointing read but the story was not up to my liking. The book starts with an introduction to the story by Martin Edwards. I kept my expectations high after reading the introduction but I was disappointed halfway through the story!
The story started on a good note. Raymond Ferens is looking for a peaceful place to continue his practice. Two years as a Japanese prisoner of war has taken a toll on his mental health and he wants a change. When he hears of a vacancy at Milham in the Moor, he agrees readily. He visits the place and meets Dr Brown – the man Raymond is supposedly replacing. He then meets Lady Ridding who leases the manor to the Ferens. Lady R is bossy but Anne Ferens makes sure that the changes in the manor are done before their arrival. (Anne has her way with words)
Sister Monica pays a visit and Anne dislikes her immediately. Raymond tells her not to judge people but he admits that he too dislikes Sister Monica. When Sister Monica is found dead, the villagers are shocked. They are still all praises for their beloved Sister Monica. But soon after the arrival of Chief Inspector MacDonald, tongues start to wag. Sister Monica’s evil deeds come into the picture.
I don’t know if it was the execution of the plot or the writing, there were times when I felt lost while reading this book. I almost DNF’ed it too but then I thought why not give it a try. The story takes an unexpected turn when MacDonald arrives at Milham. I did not like his investigative skills. He’s sometimes bland and sometimes secretive. For example, when he discusses Sister Monica’s background with Lady R, he says, “Sister Monica was not a virgin.’ Then, when Nancy’s death is discussed (the girl who committed suicide), he says ‘she got into the family way.’ Also, he’s near the crime scene in the middle of the night when Dr Ferens and Sanderson perform a little experiment. MacDonald is all hush-hush about what he witnesses and the next time he meets Ferens, he talks openly about the case (doesn’t mention what he saw at the mill-race the other night).
Tiny out-of-plot details are welcome in any kind of story. In fact, after having read Littlejohn and Campion series, I feel these details are what makes the story interesting. There were few of this kind in this story too but it felt so off-the-story! Like, Reeves talks about sending a pot of Devonshire cream to his wife and tells MacDonald to send it to the old man. In reply, MacDonald talks about his recent findings!
Also, I had difficulty following the timeline. Sister Monica is found dead months after Ferens’ arrival – this wasn’t explained properly. I really don’t know about the time taken for MacDonald to solve this case because there is no direct explanation of things as they happen. I expected Anne to play some part in solving the murder case. The story starts with Raymond and Anne – they form a really good pair, somewhat similar to Tommy and Tuppence. I expected the husband-wife duo to play a bigger role in the story. Although Raymond makes his appearance now and then in the story, Anne is nowhere in the picture.
Overall, this story had a lot of potentials. The humour, the suspense and all the other ingredients required to make an excellent story were all there. And yet, the story failed to capture my attention – these weren’t put in the right order. Mixing humour and suspense is something that I like (reminds me of Littlejohn!) but in this case, it was put in such a way that it hardly makes you giggle! (The humorous part I mean!) Sister Monica reminded me of Miss Tithers in Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs.
Finally, coming to the identity of the killer and the reason for Sister Monica’s murder. The ending reminded me of Christopher Bush’s The Case of the Climbing Rat. There are some stories that goes like a tangent- just off your head no matter how hard you try to like it! Until the last chapter, the identity of the killer isn’t revealed. Okay, nothing wrong in this. MacDonald and the Ferens are sitting together, discussing the case and the killer is addressed in the past tense! Why did this remind me of Case of the Climbing Rat? Something similar happens in that story too – before you think there’s more to the story, the story ends! The killer is just there, either arrested or dead and La Fin! The End! No drama, no climax, nothing!
I am not really sure how I would want to rate this book. There were certain parts of the story that I liked and then there were few I didn’t. Many have given this book a rating of 4 and 5 in GR! I don’t know if I should give Inspector MacDonald series another try. Do let me know if you have read any other book(s) in this series. If I do get a good recommendation, maybe I will give this series another try.
Puzzle Doctor: here.
John’s review is over here.
Kate’s review is here.
Character Development: 2.5/5
Overall Rating: 2/5
Title: Murder in the Mill-Race: A Devon Mystery (Robert MacDonald #36)
Author: E.C.R. Lorac
First published in 1952; republished by British Library Publishing on 25th April 2019
Genre: Classic Crime
Purchase Link: Amazon.com
Featured Image Credits: Goodreads