Be prepared to have the carpet pulled from under your feet in Brian Flynn’s The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye (1928)

Whilst Brian Flynn has resided in obscurity for many decades, the love, appreciation and discussion he is now receiving, is beginning to make up for lost time. The momentum for this new re-evaluation of Flynn has to be found on the Puzzle Doctor’s blog; In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel. PD, a.k.a. Steve, has been enthusiastically extolling the virtues of this author for quite some months, luring readers in with the wonderful and dazzling plots this writer has conjured up. But the second-hand market is fairly scarce for Flynn titles, so it is very fortunate for us vintage crime fans, that the Dean Street Press are reprinting Flynn’s first ten titles, (release date: 7th October).

Steve draws upon a number of different sources in his highly informative introduction to this title; from Flynn’s own words on what makes a good detective story, to contemporary critics’ comments. One such comment which stuck with me was by Sutherland Scott, who wrote about the title under review today, that it has ‘one of the ablest pieces of misdirection one could wish to meet.’ Having read the book now, this is a sentiment I can heartily endorse. I was fairly convinced I had figured out this piece of misdirection, only to then realise that my idea was still one of the red herrings! Drat! Steve also looks at the personal history of the author, including what drove him into writing detective novels in the first place, why Flynn might have fallen into obscurity in the first place, as well as his writing influences.

This story begins at the Westhampton Hunt Ball, at which there is supposed to be a member of European royalty in disguise. There we see Sheila Delaney meet a man who prefers to only be known as Mr X. Is it love at first sight? But then we are whisked off, a year later, to the home of Anthony Bathurst; Flynn’s gentleman sleuth. Like Sherlock Holmes in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia,’ he is faced with a case from a man determined to keep his identity a secret. He is being blackmailed about an affair he has had in the recent past, an affair he does not want his distinguished fiancée to know about. Yet the nod to the work of Arthur Conan Doyle swiftly unfolds in new and different directions, influenced by a seaside murder in the dentist’s chair… Of course, the two cases intertwine, with a crossover of characters, but exactly how is very much up to debate right until the end of the story.

Overall Thoughts

So what did I make of it? I know at least one person who has probably started going blue in the face, they’ve been holding their breath that long… Breath out Steve, it’s all okay, as I loved it!

Flynn offers his readers a delightfully meaty case to solve as not only are their two separate crimes, but the murder itself is further complicated by other issues, which I’ll leave as a surprise for eager readers to discover, when they of course go off and pre-order this book, (having finished reading my review first, naturally!) In some ways this story reminds me of a jigsaw puzzle, as the reader is readily given puzzle pieces, in the form of fairly played and in plain sight clues. Yet the trick is being able to put the jigsaw pieces together in the right order. Alas I came a cropper in one respect of this case, but I was quite chuffed that I correctly anticipated one part of the solution and at least didn’t stumble over one piece of more minor misdirection. Maybe these early successes made me too confident, hence the later metaphorical face plant into the mud at the end of the story, when I fell over a much greater piece of misdirection. But yes, readers better be prepared for a whole army of red herrings from the get go! This is a text which anticipates the way readers will respond to the mystery, as the plot unfolds and takes great delight in derailing such notions with new and startling pieces of information. The final solution is well hidden as Flynn is very adept at keeping the action coming and getting the reader to look in every direction apart from the correct one!

Another strength of this tale is the writing style itself, with characters treated in an entertaining, though not too light-hearted a fashion. This starts from the very beginning in a collective way when the narrative says that, ‘the Westhampton Hunt Ball represented all that was select, some of what was superior, and most of what was supercilious in the county of Westhamptonshire.’ We then see it in the individual treatment of characters such as Bathurst’s client, as well as in a more minor married couple. The nod to Holmes at the start of the story is equally a little tongue in cheek, such as when Bathurst wildly misjudges who wrote him the letter: ‘possibly a German professor who has mislaid his science notebook containing the recipe for diamond-making…’

So if you love classic crime then this novel is a must read, with its skilfully original and pleasingly deceptive plotting, along with its pacey writing style.

Rating: 4.5/5

Source: Review Copy (Dean Street Press)

Calendar of Crime: April (5) Other April Holiday

12 comments

  1. This does sound like it’d be right up my alley! 🤩 When Puzzle Doctor first reviewed this and “Tread Softly”, I went and purchased second-hand copies at considerable price. So the affordable re-prints elicit mixed emotions in me… 😅

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just finished working on my review of “Peacock’s Eye,” and I see you’ve beaten me to it. As I read it, I had a lot of mistaken superiority feelings – “Oh, I can see where THIS plot twist is leading.” I was wrong. Every time, I was wrong. It’s thoroughly delightful! And Steve’s introduction is invaluable as an introduction to Flynn.

    Liked by 1 person

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