Well it’s the weekend, so I guess it is time for another Flynn. If only I was going to be doing an interview with a certain someone next month on this author, I could really put all this Flynn reading to some use…
‘Within the next six months from to-day, I shall have removed from your midst one of the most prominent citizens of your most atrocious town. I have not yet made up my mind which one I shall honour in this way, or the exact day upon which the removal will take place.
A random serial killer? Hardly—the police discover that the first two victims are related. But they have two major problems—they don’t know the murderer, or who else might be on the list. And it’s going to turn into quite a long list before the murderer is revealed, and diabolical motivations exposed.
Antony Lotherington Bathurst is quickly on the case, on this occasion assisted by Dr. Michael Bannerman, a local resident.’
Those of you who enjoy more than the occasional classic crime novel, will probably be aware of the Puzzle Doctor and Brad. Both love golden age detective fiction, but that does not curtail their capacity to have differing tastes. Today’s read is a case in point. Yesterday Brad’s review of this title appeared online and suffice to say Flynn has not made a good impression upon him! Conversely, I noted that the Puzzle Doctor, (who writes the introductions to the Brian Flynn reprints), stated that The Edge of Terror, was ‘one of my favourite Bathurst tales.’ So we have quite polar opposite opinions here! But the all-important question is where will I stand on this continuum?
I would say the weakest part of this book is its choice of narrator, not due to his role in the plot, nor even his personality, but due to his narration style. Dr Michael Bannerman opens his record of the Chelmersley case, in a manner reminiscent of many Watson-like narrators, by making deprecating remarks about his suitability for writing up the mystery. Brad certainly agreed with him upon that point! When it comes to certain upper middleclass characters Flynn can sometimes deploy a rather Bertie-Wooster-on-steroids dialect, which for the modern-day reader can be a bit overwhelming and dense. Dr Bannerman is verbose to say the least and his syntax is cumbersome at times, with some multi-clause sentences unfolding in quite a clunky fashion. He also places emphasis on very odd sentences. For example, when he first encounters Anthony Bathurst, part of his description includes this: ‘I have said that his eyes were arresting; they were more than that. They were grey.’ Such a short sentence is presumably engineered to create tension or drama, yet I am puzzled as to why Bathurst’s eyes being grey should generate either effect. However, I would agree with the Puzzle Doctor that this is most prevalent at the start of the novel.
Interestingly, Dr Bannerman is also incredibly precise when discussing the medical complaints of his patients, using, I presume, all the correct anatomy and medical terminology. For your normal GP this seemed odd to me. So persistent was this tendency that I began to imagine Flynn penning this mystery with a copy of Grey’s Anatomy (1858) open on one side of him and perhaps Cecil Textbook of Medicine (1927) on the other.
Flynn’s work shows a consistent high regard towards the earlier cases of Sherlock Holmes, and the Watson narrator is one of the tropes he utilises often. However, I wonder whether Flynn takes this to parodic levels in this current read, as Dr Bannerman’s hero worship is pretty much love-at-first-sight quick in developing. Bathurst seems to take to him very swiftly also, and at one point they link arms as they walk to a different part of a crime scene. Did Bathurst want to hold him back to quietly share something? Were they walking across tricky terrain? The answer seems to be no in both cases, so I am puzzled as to this behaviour. I guess I tend to associate arm linking with romantic relationships and school children, neither of which appear to apply here either. Was it a more common practice in the 1930s? The Puzzle Doctor, in his review, opines that the doctor has a drinking problem, so perhaps Bathurst was just keeping his friend steady on his feet…
My attention was also drawn to the fact that the action of this story takes place during hot weather. Nothing very peculiar in that, I know, but it dawned on me that quite a few serial killer classic crime novels take place during such exceptionally hot weather. Is good weather a prerequisite for would-be serial killers? Maybe such criminals do not like the cold… Or do people get so frazzled by soaring temperatures that murder is the consequence? Also in keeping with some other serial killer mysteries of the era, local people decide to defend themselves by setting up patrols. Naturally this does not stop the killer in the slightest, who simply uses this changed setup to their own advantage.
So whilst the narration was not the best, I did think the nature of the serial killer plot was interesting, as Flynn gives it unusual angles. The investigation shapes up to suggest that the killings are targeted towards X and Y, but then Z is added in and Bathurst and the reader have to rearrange their thoughts to make sense of it. Predictions over who will be killed next are also hard to do, as Flynn keeps you guessing. There is one quite odd action that Bathurst performs at the very start of the case, and at the time I could not figure out what he had deduced from it. All is revealed at the end of course, and the explanation of this action was good. I anticipated one aspect of the solution and sort of had my eye on the killer, based on my prior reading in the genre.