The Saints Are Sinister (1958) by Brian Flynn

Humphrey Branston has led a peaceful life and he and his wife were looking forward to a peaceful retirement in lovely Margate. On the day they moved into their new house, that peace is shattered by a pounding on the door from a deeply unpleasant man who insists he be allowed to rent one of the bedrooms upstairs. He is turned away, but a little later, the Branstons are lured away from the house on a pretext and the bedrooms are ransacked. However, it wasn’t their would-be lodger who ransacked the rooms, because he’s been dead for a few days, having been stabbed in the back in Seacole Lane, London…

Enter Anthony Bathurst, intrigued by the links between the two crimes. But every investigation seems to hit a dead end. As the weeks drag on, and the organised criminals of London mutter and plot, nothing seems to move forward. Until Humphrey Branston moves house once more…

I thought I’d skip to the end of the works of Brian Flynn. And it’s never a good thing to read the last thing an author wrote, is it?

Take Postern Of Fate, for example, which is apparently nigh unreadable. Or The Hungry Goblin. Or several others… Most writers hit a peak and then either descend gradually or plummet rapidly off the other side. So, given that I am running out of Brian Flynn books on my shelf, I thought I’d save the best (hopefully) to last and pick one that probably isn’t the best, to read first.

Although, to be fair, The Nine Cuts, Flynn’s penultimate book, is good fun. Odd, but fun. There never seems to be any significant deterioration in Flynn’s writing. The plotting in the later books becomes a little more straightforward, as exemplified by The Wife Who Disappeared, but his writing style doesn’t noticeably change, in my eyes at least. It’s always fun to read.

This book falls squarely into Flynn’s sub-category of crime capers. The much-maligned-by-Barzun Conspiracy At Angel is one such book, as is the superior Where There Was Smoke. Basically, it’s not desperately important whodunit, more as to what exactly was going on.

Here, there seems to be some sort of treasure hunt going on, and the main clues are to what that treasure might be. Well, it takes Bathurst, with help, some six months to decipher it, so good luck – you need some very specialist knowledge and, to be honest, magic powers to work it out yourself. And that is the main part of the mystery, as the identity of the murderer is dealt with by Inspector MacMorran and chums.

But while it might fail as a mystery, it’s never less than entertaining. Flynn sets a lot of the book as conversation, but constantly varying the people talking, whether it be Bathurst, Inspector MacMorran, Sergeant Chatterton and his colleague, or members of the criminal underworld. And there’s a nice little twist at the end that does make me want to go back and read bits of what went before to see if it makes sense. I rather think it does.

So, a very entertaining read, although short of his best work by some distance. I wouldn’t break the bank for it, but it’s a decent read and worth your time if you trip across it.

Availability: Good luck. It crops up occasionally but not often and not cheaply.

Just The Facts, Ma’am: Both the murders occur on the streets of London, so this can tick the “Any Outdoor Location” box.

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