Marie Belloc Lowndes (1868–1947) was a prolific writer, with close to 70 novels and nonfiction works—as well as plays and short stories—published between 1898 and 1956. She came from a varied and eclectic background, with ancestors including the scientist Joseph Priestly; her mother, feminist Bessie Parkes Belloc; and her barrister father, himself the son of a well-known French painter. Marie and her family were surrounded by literary icons from early days, counting among them the Brownings, novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, and George Eliot. Marie's brother, Hilaire Belloc, became one of the best known writers of his day, and Marie married Frederic Lowndes, the editor of The Times.
In her own writing, Marie Belloc Lowndes focused on psychological studies, character development and plots grounded in the ethical dilemmas of ordinary people. She was fascinated by contemporary crime, attended trials, and based several works on famous cases including Lizzie Borden and Jack the Ripper. The latter influenced The Lodger, about a Ripper-like killer named "The Avenger," first published as a short story in McClure's Magazine in 1911 and then a full-length novel in 1913. The Lodger was adapted as a play and later became the basis for Alfred Hitchock's first major film.
Although the suspense novels by Lowndes were mostly standalones, she did create a detective called Hercules Popeau, said to be the inspiration for Hercule Poirot. The Chink in the Armour, published in 1912, however, centers on beautiful blue-eyed Sylvia Bailey, who was married a 19 and a wealthy widow at 25. Sylvia is enjoying her solo life vacationing in a casino resort town near Paris with her friend Anna Wolsky and sporting an ever-present string of pearls as her badge of freedom.
Being superstitious and naive, she visits fortuneteller Madame Cagliostra, who tells Sylvia she may never return to her own country and that the pearls will do her harm and lead her to the "House of Peril" unless she gets rid of them. Sylvia ignores the strange warning and finds herself fascinated by the casino atmosphere, its eccentric denizens and the attentions of Comte Paul de Virieu—until her friend Anna disappears. The Chink in the Armour was also made into a film in 1922 (albeit a silent movie retitled The House of Peril), directed by Kenelm Foss and starring Fay Compton, Roy Travers, Flora le Breton and A.B. Imeson.