The Dice Are Dark by Brian Flynn

“The devil throws the dice – and when they are his, they are dark – but no matter how he throws them, Justice and Mercy are the two arms of God. Not sometimes – always!”

Toby Winnington has recently returned from Kenya, having his employment prospects there somewhat inconvenienced by the Mau Mau uprising, and is at a bit of a loose end, especially when it comes to money. So when his cousin, Helen Repton, points him in the direction of a slightly mysterious job advert, he has little choice but to apply.

But who would require a librarian who can double as a bodyguard? Winnington takes the post, at a house in Westshire under the employ of Madam Isabella Mundella, and things start off very smoothly. But a strange man is watching the house, a man who follows Winnington on his occasional excursions to London. But when Winnington returns from one of those trips, he finds something that he never expected to see… One dead body later, and Winnington is rather glad that Helen is on good terms with a certain Anthony Lotherington Bathurst…

Back to Brian Flynn again. Why so soon? After all, despite there still being a massive amount of the canon that I have yet to read, I’ve got to find most of them first. And then take out a massive bank loan… if someone’s going to reprint them, please hurry up! Anyway, rather than reading my remaining titles in order, I jumped to this one, book 49 out of 54. After all, it’s true for almost every author who wrote until they dropped that the quality of their work diminished as the hands of time took hold, so I’d rather not leave the worst to last. It doesn’t really help me keep track of the evolution of Anthony Bathurst, but to be honest, that’s not really an issue. But more on that in a month or so…

And it’s an entertaining read. Everyone has their own take on humour and wit – for example, I found Douglas G Browne’s sense of humour grating, whereas Flynn’s bon mots bring a smile to my face. So even his lesser works keep me entertained even when, such as The Wife Who Disappered, the story is rather slight.

This one starts off with the feel of one of those Agatha Christie thrillers, like Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? We spend about a third of the book with Toby, Madam Mundella, the house staff and an assortment of characters passing through the house until SOMETHING happens, which I’m not going to describe as I’d say it’s a spoiler. It’s probably on the blurb but as you may be able to guess from that “cover” up there, I don’t have the dustjacket. But I was glad that I didn’t know it before getting to that point.

Bathurst is rather tactful in this case, as his involvement in the case isn’t official. Usually, he is recruited by Scotland Yard to work with Chief Detective-Inspector (is that right for 1955? It’s how it’s given in the book) Andrew MacMorran, but here the crime takes place in someone else’s jurisdiction, and Bathurst is content to basically do an impression of Dr Priestley or Nero Wolfe and spend most of his time listening to what other people have found out. Even when he works out who did what… well, you get the impression at times he’s rather bored by the whole thing, the first thing that has come his way since “the triple piscine outrages” – presumably either in The Shaking Spear or The Mirador Collection. If anyone wants to send me a copy of either, then I’ll let you know.

[NB: The Triple Piscine (or technically Piscinae or Piscinas) is The Toy Lamb so the gadetection bibliography has got these two in the wrong order.]

Mystery-wise, Flynn is much more interested by the MacGuffin rather than whodunit – the unmasking of the killer is rudimentary whereas the interesting (and probably indecipherable for the most part) clues are pointed in the direction of the mysterious object that causes all the problems. But there’s a bit more of an oomph to the denouement that you generally find in the genre.

But… I think the reader needs to turn a blind eye to the treatment of the Jewish characters. There’s one main character, who while he gets a fairly good deal in terms of the action, is still a stereotype. But others… well take this, from the thoughts of Toby, our hero:

“The man who stood behind the counter was evidently the proprietor. Concerning his nationality, of doubt there was none. The sons of Jacob came to Toby’s mind. The man’s nose, his skin, his hair and muddy-coloured eyes spoke conclusively of Rueben, Simeon and Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun.”

Oh dear – and the word “Yid” turns up once or twice too… and don’t forget our hero has shrugged off the Mau-Mau uprising as a bit of bother as well – but luckily, he never goes into details on that one.

But turning a blind eye to that, this is an entertaining if somewhat inconsequential mystery that kept this reader hooked – a welcome relief after my previous read. Not worth breaking the bank for, but definitely Recommended.

NB Oh, anyone recognise the quote at the top? It’s the only mention of the title of the book in the text but doesn’t actually seem to come from anywhere that Google can find, at least…

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