The Spiked Lion by Brian Flynn

Sir Austin Kemble, Commissioner of Police at Scotland Yard, has a tricky case on his hands. Obviously the first thing that he does, rather than rely on his own officers, is to call for the sleuth who has helped him out in the past, Anthony Bathurst. John Pender Blundell, a codebreaker in the Great War has been found dead in Bushey Park. His face is scratched and his body badly beaten, as if attacked by a savage beast. But the cause of death? Cyanide poisoning.

Another death with the same modus operandi is soon discovered, and another, this time without the wounds but locked in his own bedroom. With no apparent connection between the three men, Bathurst finds himself faced with a serious puzzle. How do the events link to the recently returned-from-apparent-death heir to the title of Lord Trensham? And what exactly is the spiked lion?

OK, a first – a Brian Flynn book that is available at a reasonable price. Well, unless the University of Michigan have an issue, that is. You see an Indian reprint company are offering it as print on demand in a variety of formats – until recently, it was available as a pdf download as well. That’s the format that I bought it in – it vanished from Abebooks as soon as I bought a copy – and it has “Original from UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN” stamped on every page. Now, this isn’t a digital library that can be accessed from outside, so I’m guessing a naughty person passed the pdf on to someone… So I can’t guarantee the quality of these reprints… I’ll bet the cover’s not as cool as mine. They’ve also got a few other Flynn titles but they are only available in “SUPER DELUXE FORMAT” for £55 a pop. You can buy originals for less than that.

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Sherlock for this. This book (and the other titles that can be bought from the Indian company) is available for free on pdf from HathiTrust. You might have to register with them but don’t send money to another company who are charging you for printing and probably nothing else. You can also get pdfs of The Billiard Room Mystery (Flynn’s slightly flawed but enjoyable debut), the excellent The Murders Near Mapleton and The Crime At The Crossways, one that I’ve got but not read yet…

UPDATE 2: An image of the real cover has been located. But because I like it so much, here’s the fake one I made…

Meanwhile, back to the contents of the book. It’s the 13th novel from Brian Flynn, from 1933, and there are actually two genuine reviews from the period. Both the New York Times and the Saturday Review of Books (also from the US) praise it highly, although the latter review (which is only about 50 words long) does hint that the ending flouts plausibility… which they might have a point about, but not in a bad way. To quote the NYT: “Bathurst’s retarded solution, a characteristic shared with other of the excellent Flynn novels, is construed with unerring logic and its every step accompanied by an unfailing interest.” Have to say, that’s not a use of the word “retarded” that I’ve come across before – I think it just means that his method of deduction is not explained until after the killer is unmasked.

By the way, there’s also a NYT review of the next book, The Ladder Of Death, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t written by the same person – it’s not remotely complimentary.

But back to this one, so if two esteemed reviewers loved it, surely I did too…

Yup, this is loads of fun. The locked room “suicide” isn’t a highlight – there’s no reason for the locked room as nobody thinks it’s suicide for a second and all it does is give a big hint to the murderer’s identity. (This is actually the second Flynn locked room where he forgets to give a reason for the impossible crime.) Other than that, there is a lot of nonsense going on here – the reason for the poisoned/savaged bodies is hilarious – but it’s taken with enough lightness to be entertaining and enough seriousness to still be a proper mystery. And it is a fairly clued mystery as well, despite it taking a much cleverer reader than me to work out what the blooming heck is going on. I guessed the killer early on but as to the grand scheme and who did what to who and why? Missed most of that…

Bathurst – still an enigma as to who exactly he is or what he does – tackles the mystery with gusto mostly on his own. Inspector MacMorran is lurking in the background but unlike in the later books, it’s a more formal relationship. Later on, they will be drinking chums, but here, McMorran refers to him as Mr Bathurst and basically is just there to arrest people. But more on the development of Anthony Bathurst in an upcoming post…

The disappearance of Flynn from bookshelves still baffles me – not just from bookshelves but almost from existence. Maybe the fact that he never got a Green Penguin release or was part of the Detection Club? But while his plots may get a little bizarre at times, he is an entertaining writer – much easier to read than some of his contemporaries. I’m still hopeful that someone is going to pick up his back catalogue for reprinting as there is loads to enjoy, not least this one. Highly Recommended (although possibly not in the dodgy reprint version).



  1. As realthog knows, downloading anything from Hathitrust is really tedious. One can download only page by page and not the entire book at a time. Of course, one can read the entire novel online on the screen without downloading.


  2. Just started reading and found that the page 13/14 was missing. Did a quick check and all other pages seem to be fine. Did your book had that page?


    • Well out of my price range but thanks for the image – I’ll add it to the post. Although I did quite like my version…

      I haven’t found a copy of The Ladder Of Death yet – I’ll let you know what I think when I do. Have you read any other Flynn?


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