“My husband, Guy Sanderson Whittaker is in grave danger and appeals to you for help. If you can see your way to answer this appeal, your answer must be as secret as possible, because his enemies must not know you have joined forces with us. You have a week to act.”
Thus reads an excerpt from a letter sent to Anthony Bathurst, imploring him to head north to save a man’s life. But as soon as he reaches Liverpool, he knows something is wrong, as at least four suspicious looking men are searching for him. Enlisting the help of his ally Percy Daventry, he makes his way to Swallowcliffe Hall just in time, finding a house under siege.
That night, the siege seems to be over, as Whittaker’s enemies break in, only to find Bathurst and his allies ready for them. But in the middle of the siege, Whittaker collapses, dead, without a mark on his body, with nobody standing near him. Even his enemies seem to be astonished that the man lies dead…
Oh, this was exactly the sort of book that I needed. You may have noticed that last month, I didn’t review anything from the Golden Age. I’ve been breaking through my backlog of reviews and this, coupled with a hectic time at work – your basic school November – and I never found time. So, despite more reviews still owing, I thought I’d treat myself. And what a treat it is…
Some people may question why I review books like this. Invisible Death is an obscure title from an obscure author. There are two copies on Abebooks, going at £25 and £35 – my copy was a bit cheaper, thankfully – but it’s still pretty obscure. But I don’t want it to be. I really want people to be able to read Flynn’s work. Even when it’s average, it’s a decent read, but when he’s on top form – here, The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye and Tread Softly, to name but three – I think he’s up there with the best of the best.
The set-up here is original, with Whittaker being sought out for revenge by the Silver Troika, remnants of a group that were thwarted in their rise to power after the Russian Revolution.
“We removed these rat-faced excrescences one by one. Not by murder, Mr Bathurst. We tried and executed them.”
The characters, while having some dated attitudes, vibrantly populate the book, and the writing is either done with a very tongue-in-cheek or a very dated style. I’m pretty sure it’s the former, as I don’t think Christie would ever describe someone as “trained to a hair, hard as a bag of nails and without an ounce of superfluous flesh, an eminently useful man in most places”.
That’s Bathurst, by the way. Flynn never seems to address exactly who he is, but people seem to have heard of him and be somewhat concerned about his involvement. But he’s an entertaining character, not presented as the infallible sleuth – indeed, the person he is asked to protect ends up murdered – but determined to sort things out. Daventry is one of the more bonkers characters I’ve seen in Golden Age fiction – this is him describing the events when he was captured and trying to find a way to escape:
“As I was commencing the old council of war with Peter Daventry Esquire not only in the chair but also forming the snappy old quorum, an angel blew along. His face was red, his nose snub and more red and his breath singularly redolent of “Spearmint”. I fell on his neck like unto the old prodigal and in response he directed me to Swallowcliffe Hall”.
He talks like that a lot. Sayers, in her book reviews, accuses Flynn of being overly verbose, but to be fair here, it’s mostly his characters, in particular Daventry, likes the sound of his own voice so much. Everyone else talks fairly normally, although there seems to be an overabundance of cricket and horse-racing mentions at times…
As for the mystery, it takes a while for the murder – um, unexplained death – to occur, but the book never flags for a moment. The method of murder – um, unexplained death – is, I think, original for the time. I’ve seen it since once or twice, more in variations, but this is from 1929, so I’m pretty sure Flynn predates… well, if I named the authors in question, that might just give too big a hint. It’s pretty basic though, despite me missing it completely.
So Dean St Press, are you listening? Please – let Flynn be the next on your list and let people read this utter treat. On the off-chance a cheapish copy passes your way, dear reader, this is, fairly obviously, Highly Recommended. While I’ve read more worthy books recently, I’ve not had this much fun in ages.