1947, and it’s time for the Bar Point-to-Point meeting at Quiddington St Philip. Had you heard of Point-to-Point races, by the way? Amateur horse races staged for professional associations to take part in – they’re still a thing, by the way. Anyway, this year, Justice Nicholas Flagon is the favourite to win – there’s big money on him, and a fair bit against him as well. Now I’m not an expert of gambling, so maybe someone can explain. Who gets the pay-out if the jockey who is in the lead in the final straight gets hit in the neck with a poisoned dart and, needless to say, doesn’t finish?
Of course, Anthony Lotherington Bathurst and Chief Inspector McMorran are more interested in who killed Flagon. Who poisoned a set of darts from the local pub with curare and was capable of hitting a jockey on a speeding horse with a single throw? And who killed another lawyer at Flagon’s funeral with the same murder weapon?
Well, this one’s rather fun. It’s presented in three acts, along with a prologue. The prologue details a murder trial during the war that ends with the conviction of the accused – and, incidentally, the subsequent death of the entire jury after a post-trial meal is bombed by the German Luftwaffe (presumably by accident).
We then jump to the events associated with Flagon’s death, and the investigations by Inspector Catchpole, thankfully a little more effectively than his namesake from the new Poirot novels. Act Two begins with Bathurst being recruited by the Chief Constable to sort things out, but he arrives just as Justice Madrigal has died at Flagon’s funeral, so we then follow Bathurst’s investigations.
Act Three changes the focus because with Bathurst certain of the motive (and almost certain of the killer) he realises there is a third target and it becomes a race against time to identify the killer and stop another death.
The change of pace is a nice kick to the narrative – not that it was moving slowly, but it keeps the momentum going and is one of the more exciting sections of a Golden Age mystery that I’ve read. Not that the book is without its flaws – we never really find out how Bathurst works out the motive, as he doesn’t get the handy prologue, and the misdirection towards the end, where Flynn makes a point of not mentioning a certain suspect too much, is a little obvious. On the other hand, there’s some nice dialogue – Flynn reins in some of his more verbose tendencies – and the flirtation between Bathurst and Helen Repton (who doesn’t seem to have a rank in the police at this point, but returns later in the series with rank, if I recall correctly – I really should keep notes) is nicely done. There’s some clever stuff going on with the conversations with the person who is eventually revealed as the killer that does help identify them, although its rather glossed over towards the end, which was a bit of a missed opportunity. Oh, and we completely overlook the likelihood of being actually able to commit the crime – a bit like John Bude’s The Cornish Coast Mystery, physics doesn’t really come into it.
Anyway, a decent entry in the series – this is, I think, Flynn’s thirty sixth novel – and one of the more findable books – this and Exit Sir John tend to turn up on eBay affordably more than the others – and while not his best work, it’s a good indication of why Flynn’s work shouldn’t be as neglected as it is. I’m not the only person who’s nudged Dean St Press in his direction. Fingers crossed… In the meantime, this is Well Worth A Look.
Oh, a quillet is an archaic term for a dart, by the way. Just so you know.
Apologies for not littering this review with jokes about Bullseye by the way – I’ve a lot of non-English followers out there who would think I’ve had a funny turn or something if I keep banging on about darts and speedboats…