The seaside village of St Mead (not, not St Mary Mead), just along the coast from Kersbrook-on-Sea is the perfect place for a restful break. An old church, one hotel, two pubs… just the place for Anthony Lotherington Bathurst to stay to recover from a bout of “muscular rheumatism”. But always be wary when you are a renowned solver of crimes and are staying with the brother of the Commissioner of Scotland Yard…
In nearby Ebford’s field, two young children are out picking mushrooms when they stumble upon a dead body. Bathurst is quickly called in to help identify him, but there it seems to be an impossible task. The only clue seems to be that, presumably to further obscure the victim’s identity, someone has recently shaved off his moustache! Bathurst’s enquiries soon catch a break when someone comes forward, but before his new witness can help, he too is murdered before being identified. With these obstacles in his path, can Bathurst possibly unmask the killer?
For those not in the know, Brian Flynn was an author who wrote 54 mystery novels between 1927 and 1958 and then promptly vanished without trace into the ether. There are a couple of titles that are a little easier to find than others – The Sharp Quillet and Exit Sir John, coming soon to a blog near you – but most of his titles seems to have disappeared completely. Despite intriguing titles such as The Running Nun and The Ebony Stag, and, per my reading so far, entertaining plots and surprising murderers, most people seem not to have heard of him. It was only dumb luck that I stumbled upon him, but needless to say, given my usual tendencies, he’s become a bit of an obsession for me now.
So, on to the most intriguing title in his back catalogue – The Case Of Elymas The Sorceror. I’ve had to make the cover image myself from a painting by Raphael – Elymas is a character from the Bible (not coming soon to a blog near you) but his story doesn’t involve being found dead, naked and with a shaved face in a field. In fact, the relevance of the title is only apparent at the end of the tale, well into the realm of the spoiler, so we’ll have to pass over the meaning of the title. But the story isn’t about a sorcerer or a magician, so don’t get too excited about that.
It’s an odd tale, to be honest. Never less than entertaining, it takes some diversions along the way, and while Bathurst does deduce everything, he does also take a few stunning educated guesses which pay off – at least we follow these as we go along, rather than discovering these guesses in the finale. And to be completely honest, the exceptionally odd diversion in the middle of the tale really doesn’t work. Again, don’t want to spoil things, but one of the guiltier members of the cast gets one step ahead of Bathurst and decides to teach him a lesson by… well, basically tricking him into
The suspects, though, are a forgettable bunch. There are, to an extent, similarities to The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye, but here the murderer, while giving themselves away in the penultimate chapter, could have been anyone up to that point. In fact the suspects are basically lined up early on and then vanish from sight until the big picture has been determined, when they are brought back to the page. It’s definitely a weakness of the tale.
There are a few interesting quirks of the time here. Bathurst at one point quotes H C Bailey’s Reggie Fortune and rails about both the railway network of the time and the “modern” obsession with talking about physical love. No mention of the war that was going on while Flynn was writing this though…
Anyway, jolly enough, but probably too many niggling flaws to recommend completely. If you see a cheap copy, though, then it’s Well Worth A Look.
Oh, and if anyone can find a copy of the actual cover, I’d appreciate it.