“Thenceforth their incommunicable ways follow the desultory feet of death.”
D G Rosetti
Victor Markham thought the journey from the Leucadian Club to his London flat would be simplicity itself. Regardless of anything that might or might not be troubling him, regardless of the thick fog that night, all he had to do was to get into his cab, get out at the other end and open in front door. But on that particular night, he only managed the first of the three steps. When the driver pulls up at Markham’s flat, he finds Markham dead – strangled in the back of the taxi.
Soon, Anthony Bathurst is asked by Scotland Yard to look into the case, but finds himself at a bit of a loss? What is the importance of the swimming gala (featuring at least one team of clergyman swimmers) that he visited the previous night? Why have his wife and a man he bumped into in the club been threatened by anonymous notes? And why, when heading out of the club, was he muttering about “The Feet Of Death”?
First off, I’d better disappoint JJ – the taxi strangling isn’t an impossible crime. Well, apart from the driver never noticing that when the cab slowed down in the fog, someone climbed in, throttled Markham and climbed out again (and managed to find the cab in the fog in the first place). That’s not a spoiler, it’s established early on, but I’d hate to see my good bloggin’ buddy blow a stupid amount of cash on this one. If he could even find a copy.
This is a very late title from Brian Flynn, book 46 (or maybe 45) out of 54, and Bathurst is at this point firmly established as Scotland Yard’s go-to guy for mysterious deaths. Having said that, all Bathurst seems to do is wander around re-interviewing people that the police have already spoken to. Luckily, it seems that everyone involved in the crime is suffering from Columbo-itis, namely as soon as Bathurst has decided the interview is over, they remember one piece of possibly-relevant information. I’d love to know what is on Bathurst’s business card that somehow makes everyone agree to talk to him despite not being a policeman.
Bathurst remains a charming lead, fond of obscure quotations – anyone have any idea what the reference to “Rhoda having forty-nine sisters” is? I think it’s Aeschylus but that’s just the fifty sisters bit. As I mentioned in Fear And Trembling, there is a sense at times that he’s doing it to show how clever he is, but as most of his quotes – there are a few Shakespearean ones that I recognise – go right over the heads of the people he is talking to, he just comes across as bit a bit of a twat. Oddly he doesn’t recognise the Rossetti quote though. Luckily he seems to be adept at charming all but the most hostile witnesses – there’s even a hint that he just might have had a little post-interview fun with one of them.
Now, let’s not ignore the somewhat datedness of some of the ideas here. The idea that Markham could regularly receive the programme for an out-of-town swimming gala, which I will remind you, has a team of vicars taking part sounds odd to the modern ear. But then so did the lawyers’ horse race in The Sharp Quillet, and that one still happens! And a little like Conspiracy At Angel, the motivation for the crime here is… interesting. I’m sure that the villain’s plan meant a lot more to readers from the fifties than today and I defy any reader (if there are any) to work it and the meaning of “The Feet Of Death” out.
For a book which is mostly Bathurst talking to people one at a time while trying to figure out what the hell is going on, this is surprisingly entertaining. I do like Flynn’s writing voice a lot, as you might have guessed by now, and while this isn’t as impressive as his best work, it’s still Well Worth Your Time. If you can find a copy…