Today I am taking a look at Flynn’s second novel, which according to the introduction, was translated into Swedish. The Puzzle Doctor, in the introduction, also notes that this is the first example of an impossible murder from Flynn. It would be fair to say that for his first foray into the subgenre Flynn has gone old school with the classic example of the man murdered in the locked study, which is naturally secured from the inside.
Anthony Bathurst is invited into his second case by Peter Daventry’s whose brother saw him in action in The Billiard Room Mystery. Peter asks for his assistance when his ‘law partnership is involved in a double murder – Mason, a nightwatchman at an auction house and Mr Laurence Stewart, a millionaire art collector. Both were killed at the same time while miles apart, both killed by a blow to the head by a blunt instrument, their deaths linked by the theft from the auction house of items that Stewart had enlisted Daventry to bid on.’ Scotland Yard Inspector Goodall is in charge of both cases, though I think we all know who is going to solve this one.
Looking back at this read I think it is a text which shows its writer is honing and learning his craft. There are strong nods to earlier detective fiction, in particular the famous Sherlock Holmes. Bathurst is decidedly in the Great Detective mould and we are assured of his prowess in lines such these:
‘Anthony Bathurst in whatever company of men he found himself, was usually the fittest of the lot. He excelled at nearly all ball games and took extraordinary pains to keep thoroughly “trained”. And his mental powers were equally outstanding.’
Bathurst’s manner of speaking also mirrors the style Holmes uses too. Other established tropes in the tale include:
- The local police who are out of their depths;
- The intense and relentless Scotland Yard sleuth, who can rub people up the wrong way and who you know is going to be in need of the amateur detective’s assistance;
- The country house murder setup, equipped with a collection of valuable antiques and;
- A young woman who makes herself highly suspicious through not being completely honest yet is not overly taxed by the sleuths due to being young, beautiful and giving off that unspeakable aura of innocence.
Although with this last item I think Flynn is quite good at describing the reactions the male characters have towards the young woman. In particular I enjoyed how the local police sergeant is aware that he has to be professional, yet still can’t help being charmed: ‘the sergeant became acutely aware of his constitutional chivalry, but sternly suppressed it.’
The case mainly focuses on the murder at the country house, with that death posing a greater puzzle than the one which occurs at the auction house. At the country house crime scene, the reader is given a number of intriguing clues to ponder over, and some have more than one possible meaning. However, I feel the investigation is less than perfect, in comparison to later works by Flynn, such as The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye. Firstly, the manner in which Flynn has Inspector Goodall and Bathurst take over from the local police causes some repetition of information, which isn’t entirely necessary for the reader. There is also the issue that this swapping over process leaves the sergeant sharing a fairly important piece of information with Bathurst, rather than with his professional colleague Goodall. I found this a little odd. Leading on from this issue there are some questionable gaps in the suspect interviewing and in particular re-interviewing. By this I think I mean that there are some key questions and discrepancies which you think should be followed up, yet they aren’t. In fairness Bathurst does resolve these queries but, in a way, which is perhaps not quite so satisfying. In addition, Bathurst is maybe too great a Great Detective, such as his ability to find one item within a 2000+ catalogue of antiques, which is the only one missing. We also get moments where Peter asks him, ‘How can you know that?’ To which Bathurst replies, ‘I don’t know […] but, all the same I’m pretty sure.’ Hmm…
Nevertheless, there are still signs of several of Flynn’s writing strengths in this story, including his ability to weave in unusual and odd features into the case, as well as his talent in structuring his chapters to close on a cliff hanger, and of course his confidence in using surprising killers.
See also: The Puzzle Doctor has also reviewed this title here.