The Pit-Prop Syndicate by Freeman Wills Crofts

Pit PropSeymour Merriman is holidaying in Bordeaux when to his horror, he runs out of petrol. Luckily, he gets a lift to a nearby plant that constructs pit-props – you know, those wooden things that keep a mine’s ceiling from falling in. At least I think that’s what they are. Quicker than you can say “John Dickson Carr” he quickly falls in love with the owner’s daughter and, more crucially, spots a delivery lorry carefully changing the number on its side. Why on earth would it do that?

After discussing it with his curious friend, Claud Hilliard, they deduce that something shady is going on in Bordeaux. Merriman is determined to rescue his true love (whether she wants him too or not) and Hilliard is determined to solve the puzzle of the changing numbers. So off to France they go, never envisaging how exciting their upcoming adventure is going to be…

Just to make it clear – the answer to “how exciting is their upcoming adventure going to be?” is “not very exciting at all”. In fact… this is probably the dullest book that I’ve read in a long time. And that’s before they crack out the railway timetables for the finale.

I’m reading this for the #1922book Crimes Of The Century for Past Offences but I’ve been meaning to look at Freeman Wills Crofts for a while, ever since Dolores Gordon-Smith sang his praises at the Bodies From The Library event. I really hope this isn’t representative of the man’s work…

It’s just long and slow. The characters have no real distinctive traits and after the first half, the focus switches completely in such a way you wonder what the point of the first half was. And at the end of the day, there just isn’t enough plot here for a short story, let alone an overlong novel.

I could go on, but I’ll just keep writing euphemisms for BORING BOOK over and over again. Absolutely, 100%, NOT RECOMMENDED. I’d go so far as Actively Avoid.

If you must, it’s free on Project Gutenberg but don’t say I didn’t warn you…


  1. Out of the three Freeman Wills Crofts novels I’ve read so far, as soon as Inspector French enters the scene the interest levels of the story take a nose dive as his investigations are sooooo boring. The most bearable one is Antidote to Venom and that’s because French doesn’t turn up until nearer the end of the novel.


  2. Oh dear, I just wished your first(?) foray into Freeman Wills Crofts turned out to be more compelling. I enjoyed the British Library Reprint of ‘Hog’s Back Mystery’ – though I think Armchair Reviewer might think otherwise. I’m looking forward to delving into his other words recommended by Curt, and I’ve ‘Sea Mystery’ and ‘Jane Vosper’ sitting on the shelf…

    Sorry to gatecrash this thread with a separate enquiry: I’m thinking of trying something by Martin Edwards as the local library will soon stock some of his Harry Devlin novels, as well as the entire Lake District set. Do you have a preference between the two?


  3. I wrote a lot about Crofts in Masters of “Humdrum” Mystery, but I certainly don’t boost all his books. The Pit Prop Syndicate I consider a dud. The “quaint” love story, with the heroine who keeps telling the guy “It cannot be” didn’t help.

    On the other hand, I like The Hog’s Back Mystery, reprinted by BL. It’s very plot heavy, that for sure. Some no doubt will find that tedious, however. It gives you a good idea of the classic Crofts’ style. The Sea Mystery, I think, is a good Crofts’ starter, shorter than some, and much better than Pit Prop.


  4. Crofts could on occasion write well- “Death of a Train” has a gripping description of a train wreck- but unfortunately it is at the beginning of the book which falls off from there, though the plot is tightly constructed & has a good twist.


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