Policemen in the Precinct (Lorac)

  • By E.C.R. Lorac
  • First published: UK: Collins, 1949; US: Doubleday, 1950, as And Then Put Out the Light

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

It comes close to Crime Queen territory: a splendidly drawn cathedral town full of pious hypocrisy and class consciousness; good characterisation, particularly of the frigid, religious maniac, hysterical horror who is electrocuted, and not before time (note lots of references to psychology—marriage was unconsummated, her ‘Hell-fire’ canon father is to blame for what she became, and many of the characters have complexes or neuroses); and a solid, well-constructed plot.  The murderer, however, is the least likely person – no great surprise, and rather disappointing.


Life in the north-midland town of Paulborough was dominated by its ancient Norman Abbey.  It was a godly town on the surface, with its Abbey hierarchy, its aristocracy of old residents, its traditions of high-mindedness and Christian obligation.  But underneath all that simmered a seething brew of gossip and innuendo, suspicion and hatred.  The worst scandalmonger of them all was Mrs. Mayden, known locally as “the malicious Mayden”, who slandered every one from the Dean to her best friend.  Unfortunately, as somebody remarked, she hit “at least ten per cent of her nails on the head”; and when she dies suddenly, and curiously, and Scotland Yard says it is murder, it is Chief Inspector Macdonald’s task to find out if one of that ten per cent killed her to prevent a secret from being divulged.  E.C.R. Lorac, accomplished writer of detective novels, has never written a more ingenious story than Policemen in the Precinct.

Contemporary reviews

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 27th November 1949): Four genuinely mysterious murders in a Midland market town with a fine Norman abbey, doggedly solved by Inspector Macdonald despite obstruction.  Painstaking characterisation of local society, particularly Gillian Arkholme, such a sensible girl.  Tense throughout, this is Mr. Lorac’s best book and reminds us how much life—despite the claims of the tough school—there is in the old provincial English whodunnit yet.

Manchester Evening News: The end is a surprise, and throughout the murder-hunt maintains a lively pace.