“With Creeping Jenny’s compliments. She takes but one.”
The country houses of England are being terrorised by the jewel thief known only as “Creeping Jenny”. Over the course of six weeks, five very particular robberies have taken place. In every instance, a single valuable – Mrs Stanley Medlicott’s pearl necklace – has been stolen from the victim’s bedroom, while more valuable items, such as Mrs Medlicott’s emeralds, were untouched, despite being in the same location. A calling card is left every time in the room, every time expanding the villain’s reputation.
Inspector Baddeley is assigned to the case – previously seen failing to solve The Billiard Room Mystery – and he feels that he might have a lead. Following a robbery at the nearby Cranwick Towers, he develops a strong suspicion that the cat-burglar might be staying at The Crossways, home of Henry Mordaunt K.C. And would you believe it, but someone has brought a valuable sapphire to the house-party. But when the crime turns from theft to murder, can Inspector Baddeley track down the killer?
I know I only reviewed The Toy Lamb last week, but I thought I’d take a look at another Brian Flynn title, and, as I did with Fear and Trembling, I thought a slightly more in depth look. At the moment, I’ve only read about a third of the book, so rather than a review, this is more about first impressions, I suppose.
The Creeping Jenny Mystery was first published in the UK in March 1930 by John Long, the publisher that released all fifty-three of Flynn’s Anthony Bathurst mysteries. It was released in the US two years later under the title “The Crime At The Crossways” by Macrae-Smith, a company who published only some of Flynn’s titles, occasionally retitling them. The US edition seems to be much easier (relatively) to find – true for most of the books involved in fact – hence the image attached to the review. I can’t find a picture of the original dustjacket anywhere, so we’ll have to make do.
This is the seventh Bathurst mystery, following on from Invisible Death, but I can’t say much about the development of the character as he hasn’t shown up yet. At this point in the series, Inspector Andrew MacMorran, Bathurst’s regular sparring partner, hasn’t shown up yet, so Inspector Baddeley reappears after a break – to my recollection, he was mentioned in The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye, but that’s all we seen of him since his debut.
Instead, we spend most of the first third of the book setting the scene and then reacting to the murder when it happens. This couldn’t be a more traditional country house mystery novel if it tried. The extended family and a collection of associated guests cover most of the expected character tropes – family, a couple of lawyers and some theatre types, giving Flynn an excuse to indulge in some of his trademark verbosity. We have a slightly drunken wager as to whether the Lorrimar Sapphire will be stolen. Oh, and one of the luvvies brought a replica of the type of dagger that killed Julius Caesar. Oh, and the person who wrote the play under a pseudonym is probably at the house party.
What sets it apart at this stage is the choice of victim. By not reading the blurb – partly to there being no dustjacket – I was caught off-guard by who was found in the well and I won’t mention it on the off-chance you get round to finding a copy of this one. As Baddeley begins his investigation into the murder – and at the moment, I’m clueless – we get a more in depth look at the suspects.
I’ll admit, I’m completely engrossed. Flynn wrote in an article that he started writing due to reading a pile of mystery novels on holiday and deciding that he could do better. Well, claiming that he could do better and then being told to put his money where his mouth was by his wife. I’m never going to claim that Brian Flynn was the finest mystery writer of his generation – because he wasn’t Agatha Christie – but damn, he’s entertaining. Yes, he does like his literary references, yes, some of his characters can use odd turns of phrase – such as Baddeley’s “What was it that you were desirous of telling me?” – but I’d rather entertaining quirks like this than the leaden prose that stifles some purveyors of the genre.
Be back very soon for the second part of the review – in which I expect Anthony Bathurst will finally show up to save the day, summoned by Peter Daventry, his friend from The Case Of The Black Twenty-Two and Invisible Death. At the moment, I’m really enjoying this one. I’d say it’s embracing the clichés of the genre, but by 1930, was the country house setting really such a cliché? Well, even if it is, it’s doing it remarkably well. See you soon…