The coastal town of St Mallow is a peaceful place, until property speculator Clive Pothecary is found one night in his car, dead. He has been strangled by a cord but the marks on the body are what makes the case stand out. Someone has carved the seemingly meaningless word “BOUSTRAPA” into his forehead.
Looking aside from the fact that each letter was made by a single cut – the titular “Nine Cuts” – the case becomes much more complicated when it seems that not only has the woman who was seeing Pothecary, one Juliet Montague, has vanished without trace, but it seems that nobody seems to know exactly who Pothecary was before he came to St Mallow and what exactly he has been up to the past few years…
Rounding out the month with my other Golden Age obsession, Brian Flynn – this is his penultimate title from 1958 – and I picked this one as a sort of request. Kate of Cross Examining Crime knew that I had a copy, and asked my opinion as, inspired by my constant banging on about Flynn, she’d spotted a semi-affordable copy of this one and was tempted. As at the time I hadn’t read it, I promised her that it was next on my list. So, should she buy it? Read on…
The basic Flynn structure seems to be as follows:
- Intriguing set-up
- Investigation – mostly following around Anthony Bathurst with his sleuthing, which usually involves some educated guesswork that tends to lead to evidence
and that’s exactly what you get here. It’s all written with charm and Bathurst is pleasant company. That’s a good job, as we stay in his company for most of the book, except when we check in on the residents of St Mallow who, I suppose, should charitably be referred to as suspects, but it’s only after chasing halfway round the country trying to figure out who Pothecary was that we actually start considering who killed him. We also get to see him sort-of romance one of the suspects, although he seems to forget about her halfway through and starts chatting up one of the police characters.
It’s not Flynn’s best work – so far, from my limited reading, that’s Tread Softly – but it’s entertaining enough. The suspects are very underdeveloped and the clue that points to the killer is pretty hard to spot – a case of spotting the right leaf in a forest. Worst of all, the set-up of the Nine Cuts is weak. It almost felt like someone bet Flynn that he couldn’t write a sensible reason for someone carving BOUSTRAPA onto a victim’s forehead. There’s no great reason either for carving that word, or indeed carving anything…
It’s Flynn’s turn to take over from John Rhode to give us a snapshot of the time it was written. For example:
- A girl staying along at a Bed and Breakfast is so rare that only one of the hostelries in the area had a solo female guest in the past six months.
- Strangling from behind with a cord is an method so obscure, there is an early theory that it was a Thuggee execution.
- In 1958, the use of an acronym was so rare that both Bathurst and Inspector McMorran don’t know the word acronym – just “one of those modern words… constructed from the initials of other words or near enough.”
- Ross-on-Wye, a small town, can be effectively ruled out of being the town that Pothecary came from by asking one fairly mad old man who “knows everybody” in a town of population over 9000.
- World War II is referred to as “the big scrap”.
- A woman is referred to as well-endowed – meaning rich, obvious. What did you think Flynn meant?
- The phrase “fore-name” was beginning to be used to replace “Christian name” – and is, according to Bathurst, “a ghastly official travesty of a beautiful adjective”.
Anyway, a fun read, but not something that is ever going to win a “Best Book Ever” award. Well Worth A Look.