Source: Review Copy
This is my last Inspector Furnival mystery and in a way I still don’t feel like I know that much about him. But The Crow’s Inn Tragedy (1927) opens with Reverend James Collyer meeting his brother in law Luke Bechombe, who is a part of the rather worn down Messrs. Bechombe and Turner legal establishment. Collyer has sought out Luke’s assistance in selling a family heirloom, an emerald cross in order to pay off again his son, Tony’s debts (who was gassed and wounded during WW1 and has not been able to fit back into everyday life successfully.) A minor theme of the novel is the aftermath of WW1 on returning soldiers, as Tony himself says of his dead comrades:
‘They, at any rate, had not lived to know that they were little better than nuisances in the land for which they had fought and died.’
However a new job and a possible love interest, named Cecily Hoyle and is Luke’s secretary seem to suggest his luck is changing… aside from the debt issue of course. WW1 also becomes a topic in the novel as Luke’s nephew Aubrey Todmarsh is a conscientious objector, and who runs a settlement for ex-cons and straying youths called the Community of St Phillip, discusses the ethics of the war and the emerging League of Nations with various characters. However the other characters do not share his rather visionary and optimistic views, with Luke preferring planes and bombs to committees. Todmarsh is also possibly engaged to the much older and richer Mrs Phillimore and it is suggested unkindly it is her money he is after. The first piece of the mystery unfolds when it turns out that the cross Collyer brings is not the real one and is a paste substitute. It is at this point that it is mentioned that the yellow gang (an unimaginatively named group led by yellow dog) is committing various audacious jewellery thefts across the country.
It seems Luke has another jewel based commission on hand and on a subsequent day asks his staff to not disturb him for a whole hour between 12 and 1. Of course when anyone asks to not be disturbed in crime fiction, you can guarantee someone is bound to turn up. In this case it is Tony who ignores the protests of Amos Thompson, who is the managing clerk at the firm and goes into Luke’s office. A short while later Amos also goes into Luke’s office. The action then moves forward to later in the afternoon, with the worried clerks breaking down the door into the office only to find a dead body… Luke’s. This is a baffling case for Inspector Furnival and the reader (but for a shorter time for the latter than the former), as not only did Luke’s office contain a mysterious ladies’ glove and have a private exit, Amos Thompson has also gone missing. A tricky part of the case for Furnival is that although the body had been dead for two hours when it was discovered, various other witnesses have reason to believe that Luke was still alive after this point. Though I feel even the most novice of readers’ can think of a plausible explanation for this.
Further investigation into Thompson strengthens suspicion against him. But there are other potential suspects such as Tony who receives a lot of money under Luke’s will and Cecily Hoyle whose behaviour screams she has something to hide, whilst also suggesting suspicious links between her and other characters. The owner of the glove is also an interesting piece of the jigsaw puzzle, giving Haynes room to include sensation fiction tropes. More robberies and an assault occur giving more food for thought. However, it seems for Furnival that the solution is in sight and begins to plot the downfall of the murderer. Yet in a Carr-esque sequence will it be Furnival’s time to meet his maker?
Although, the Carr-esque sequence, which to an extent reminds me of parts of Christie’s The Big Four (1927) that was also published in the same year, is packed full of drama, having elements of the fantastical, I am unsure whether it works in this novel, as its violent thriller like qualities do not fit with the rest of the novel and perhaps jar with the ending of the novel, where, as in most of the other Haynes’ novels I have read, is obliged to conclude romantically. Another element of Haynes’ works which I have noted is the role of the amateur sleuth, which could be a hangover from the sensation fiction she sometimes emulates, as:
‘sensation-fiction also implied that anyone could be a detective… more commonly, it was assumed that the appropriate person to take on the detective role was a concerned family member’ (Flanders, 2011: 296).
In this case a cousin of Mrs Luke Bechombe, Mr Steadman, who is a barrister and criminologist is our amateur sleuth. However something I have noted is that in Haynes’ novels, although the police investigator often seeks out the help of the amateur such as in The Abbey Court Murder (1923), the amateur detectives never seem to contribute much or anything to the case, so in a way are rather under used. This is evident in this novel, although Mr Steadman does get thrust into a heroic role later in the tale. Disguises and acting under an assumed name are actions which both suspects and detectives do alike in Haynes’ novels and this story is no different, though for once we are spared the police detective flirting with and/ or proposing marriage to the servants, as typified in The Crime at Tattenham Corner (1929). The prevalence of disguising oneself and assuming another identity has made me wonder whether this is a throwback to the fin de siècle literature of the 19th century where duality and the deceptiveness of external appearances (even respectable ones) were common themes.
Female characters has been something I have looked at a lot whilst reviewing Haynes’ novels, often finding them weak and annoying, residing too much in their sensation fiction roots. This novel does contain such characters such as Cecily who fits the component of the young troubled woman who pushes her lover away due to her notions of sensibility and morals and also Luke’s widow who is a right pain in the rear end, vowing vengeance, justifying female intuition and accusing people left right and centre. However, on the whole aside from Cecily, this is a very male character focused novel, with the female characters not making much of an impact. Although I did note the brave act of one very minor female character.
This is a good story, with Haynes’ addictive narrative style making it a quick read. However, I felt the crime was rather easy to solve, as little parts of insignificant events kind of make it obvious who it is and despite the narrative withholding the secret until the last possible moment, it is somewhat of an anti-climax as you already knew who it was.
Rating: 3.5/ 5
Flanders, J. (2011). The Invention of Murder. London: Harper Press.