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.