“Never commence to theorize in the absence of data.”
After a brief diversion to a Mausoleum, we find ourselves back at the “Crossways”. When we left, the house was in disarray due to the murder of one of the guest, along with the theft of the famed Lorrimer Sapphire by the notorious jewel thief known as “Creeping Jenny”. The substitution of the jewel with a fake by its owner didn’t work, as while the fake was stolen, so was the real one from its hiding place. Inspector Baddeley is on the case, but Peter Daventry is concerned that the good Inspector may be out of his depth. As such, he approaches the man of the house, Henry Mordaunt, KC, with the suggestion of contacting Anthony Bathurst – only to be refused!
What reason could Mordaunt, who has every reason on the face of it to get the murderous jewel thief unmasked, have to exclude Bathurst, the renowned solver of SIX crimes, from the investigation? Could he have a reason for wanting “Creeping Jenny” to get away with murder?
A quick recap – I wanted to take a look at this one in a little more detail. As the champion of Brian Flynn, I feel that I should be writing somewhat more informed reviews about his work – still spoiler-free of course. Obviously, I’m no Curtis Evans and never will be, but it’s nice to have one little corner of the Golden Age world where, on the Internet at least, I’m the expert.
How best to sum up this book? Well, and I think this is the case with the best Golden Age mysteries, it never failed to have my attention. This can be especially true with single-murder tales – the investigation can drag things to a near-halt until the finale hoves into view – but that was definitely not the case here.
There’s a lot to ponder here – who killed Olive Mordaunt? Who stole the sapphire? Who stole the fake sapphire? Who is Creeping Jenny? Are the answers all the same person? What is Russell Streatfield – a lawyer who has Mordaunt’s trust, but nobody else’s – up to? Why is Mordaunt so against extra investigation beyond Baddeley? Fun and games abound. And more than one character has a bit of fun with the dressing-up box…
This is an absolute delight. A murder mystery with no massive bells and whistles on it – no locked room, no unbreakable alibi – just a deeply satisfying mystery with a fair few clues thrown in too (admittedly one visual one that we don’t see until the reveal, but it’s a confirmation-of-guilt sort of thing).
Some choice bits and bobs:
“I’m not the only Chili in the jar of Piccalilli” – used to point out that the reason why the finger of guilt points at her could be used for some other suspects. But seriously, who puts chilli in piccalilli?
There’s one dash of very dodgy sexual politics, referring to a husband teaching his wife a lesson for pushing herself forward in the world – namely by getting her pregnant! Really odd, as the female characters here give a good account of themselves.
It’s worth pointing out that Flynn’s verbosity, which I’ve pointed out before, is actually restricted only to certain characters. The lead actress has a few choice turns of phrase – see above – but it’s only when Daventry writes to Bathurst (and later meets up with him) that the nonsense flows. If I could reproduce the four-page letter, I would, but it starts with “My Dear Bathurst, Salaam, Sahib, and many of ‘em!” and ends with – and I kid you not – “Chin Chin and likewise Tinketty-Tonk”. Public schools (Uppingham in this case) have a lot to answer for… but I have to admit, I’m tempted to include that in my emails from now on.
This is a marvellous book, showing Flynn at his strengths. My brain was constantly ticking over as to what was going on, getting some bits right, and other bits very wrong. There is a question, for the grumpier reader, if SOMETHING would ever work in a million years, but it’s a small part of the plot.
So, expect more Flynn soon. I think I’ll be heading back and taking another look at the earlier titles, so that I can plot the trajectory of some side-characters, like Baddeley and Daventry through the novels, and also because I just want to read them again. But next time I visit Flynn, I’ll be taking a double decker bus and trying not to get murdered while alone on the top deck…
An Aside: There is an e-copy of this book floating around via, I think, the Hathi Trust library. I do not know the legality of this in India, but this book is in copyright in the UK. So don’t be naughty… Oh, and the Indian company selling print-on-demand copies is, I believe, just using the library copy, so that’s definitely dodgy…
Just The Facts, Ma’am: WHAT – includes letters or diary extracts.
Chin chin and Tinketty-Tonk!