The Shaking Spear by Brian Flynn

At 5:05pm, Monday 23rd of March, one Ralph Slavin left the offices of Messrs Bacon and Beardsley, booksellers, on route to an appointment that should make him a great deal of money. He stops off at the King’s Head in Wootton Magna for a drink or three and then heads off into the night.

Meanwhile in nearby Wootton Parva, Ambrose Melville, a connoisseur of books, Robbie Burns in particular, sits with three friends in his study, waiting for Slavin to bring something that will become the prize item of his collection. But Slavin never arrives.

A fortnight later, Slavin’s body is found, along with a junior office colleague – both “shot through the brain”! Soon Anthony Bathurst is on the case – but what was the motive for the case? And who had the opportunity to intercept him on the way to Wootton Parva…

“Shot through the brain”… what an odd phrase, but it’s used a number of times in this one to describe the cause of death. But it’s not the only odd phrasing here. “Forrader” rather that “forwarder”, and “shewn” rather than “shown”. These are both regional turns of phrase, so you could assume that this is an attempt to give Bathurst something of an accent but Flynn uses it in the descriptive text on one occasion. I do recall having seen it (and ignored it) on occasion in Flynn’s work before – I’ll keep an eye out for this oddity in future.

Meanwhile, back at the plot, it’s rather fun if hardly revolutionary. Bathurst is enjoyable (as ever) with his slightly superior attitude and while the majority of the investigation consists of him interviewing suspects, there’s a significant strand concerning Melville’s activities as well.

The murderer and motive are reasonably clued, especially… no, can’t mention that bit, with the plot taking a variety of topics, including heraldry (which is where the title comes from if you were curious). It’s by no means the best title from Flynn, just an enjoyable if straightforward mystery. That’s fairly common with the latter half of Flynn’s output – an intriguing idea and a perfectly entertaining read but without the bizarreness that populates his earlier work. This one is Worth A Look, if you can find a copy, and a solid entry into a body of work but as a one off, it probably won’t convert you like The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye or Tread Softly would.


  1. …or Murder En Route, the book that changed my opinion of Flynn. I still cannot believe it is so ridiculously hard to find. Considering many other titles from his early career seem to be so common and are still out there in booksellers’ catalogs. You manage to uncover even rarer titles like this one of which there are also zero copies available for sale online.


    • Some people look at kittens on the internet when bored. I search for rare Brian Flynn titles. If I’m lucky, I spot one soon after it is posted for sale. Murder En Route is one I’m grumpy about as a) I know it’s a good one and b) there was an affordable copy on Abebooks for a while, but the postage to the U.K. was astronomical – something like less than 20 quid for the book but 50 plus quid postage. I asked the seller to ship it cheaply and I’d take the risk, but they wouldn’t do it… it’s gone now ☹️


  2. Just looked over the titles you own and have reviewed on your Brian Flynn page and I feel compelled to inform you about one of the books you have yet to read and review. TRAGEDY AT TRINKET is not a Bathurst murder mystery. In fact it’s a kid’s book! It’s about students investigating mysterious happenings at their boys’ school I think a cricket club is featured in the plot. I bought a copy from an eBay dealer back in the summer and when it arrived I read the blurb on the DJ and the first couple of pages and realized I was duped! But it’ll be interesting to read what you think of it. You’ll still read and review that book, won’t you?


    • I thought it might be – I was fairly sure it wasn’t Bathurst as it’s a different UK publisher. I started reading it a while ago but the first chapter was inpenetrable guff about cricket so I read a different one instead. Thanks for the confirmation/warning.


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