The Hangman’s Hands by Charles Wogan

It was to Piers Deverson’s horror that when he entered the restaurant of the Cosmopolitan Club, that someone else was sitting at his table. It seemed that Pierre Cuvier, their usual waiter, was absent, hence the seating confusion. But this caused concern to Piers’ erstwhile dining companion, Sebastian Stole, as Pierre had arranged to speak to him that evening over a matter of grave concern.

Rushing to Pierre’s house, with Piers in tow, Stole finds Pierre dead, his throat cut. With no clues, no indication of the cause of death, how can anyone possibly find Pierre’s killer? Well, if you have the resources of the ex-prince of Calorania – as Sebastian Stole is – you can start by buying the victim’s house…

Charles Wogan? Who on earth was he?” you may be asking yourself. Well, Charles Wogan was a famous eighteenth century soldier, feted by both the Pope and King James I of England. But he didn’t write any mystery novels in his spare time. You just might have spotted a mention of him if you’ve been lucky enough to read The Five Red Fingers or The Triple Bite by Brian Flynn, as Flynn clearly thought highly of him. And that’s why, presumably, when Flynn chose this pseudonym when he decided that it was time to try a second series of detective novels with a new sleuth, rather than Antony Bathurst.

“Brian Flynn? Who on earth was he?” you may be asking yourself. Well, I’m guessing that you’re new to the blog. Briefly, he was a crime fiction author who wrote a total of 57 mystery novels, namely 53 featuring Antony Bathurst, 3 as Charles Wogan and a standalone children’s book Tragedy At Trinket, which is generally acknowledged as being a bit rubbish. For more on Brian, then I’ve written a post or two on him, and you can read a lot more in October when Brian Flynn’s first ten Bathurst mysteries will be re-issued by Dean Street Press, with introductions by “crime fiction historian” little old me. I’ve just seen a near-final version of the ebook of The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye and still can’t quite believe it’s happening. Oh, and FYI, the ebooks are now available for pre-order at ridiculously low prices…

Anyway, back to this one. Let’s take a look at the lead character first of all. Sebastian Stole is a would-be sleuth, who has two particular quirks. First of all, as mentioned, he is the ex-Crown Prince of Calorania, smuggled out of the back of the Palace during an uprising by his mother, as his father was being executed at the front. There’s a good question as to whether Stole is supposed to be the same character as the unnamed Crown Prince of Clorania from The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye – the country names are awfully similar – but if that was the case, why didn’t he call his chum Bathurst the moment things got a bit murder-y?Also, I suppose the more picky reader might question why someone who is smuggled out of a country due to a revolution has the money to casually buy a house, but let’s not wonder too much about that, eh?

The second thing about him is probably the make-or-break for some readers. Stole’s command of the English language is not perfect but whereas Poirot drops in the occasional French sayings, Stole gets words wrong. For example:

“My time is more or less my own, thanks to the unflagging industry of my forbears.”

“I have heard of them”, said Sebastian, “and also of Goldilocks.”

I don’t know what it says about me, but I found that one funny, but there are quite a lot of them spread throughout the narrative, and they’re not all as good as that one. I guess that this is the alternative to Bathurst’s verbosity, but it doesn’t really work as well.

Published in 1947, this is contemporous with three other Flynn titles, the much-derided Conspiracy At Angel and the significantly better Exit Sir John and The Sharp Quillet. This is much closer in quality to the latter two books. Structurally, the tale follows the investigations of Stole and Deverson, and the development of the investigation from basically nothing is very well constructed. The author plays a nice trick towards the end misdirecting the reader, which helps as the revelation of the murderer is a little disappointing, despite making perfect sense.

Sebastian Stole only lasted three outings – I don’t know why Flynn stopped writing his adventures – returning in The Horror At Warden Hall and Cyanide For The Chorister. Luckily for me, I’ve got copies of both of those books – it’s possible that my copy of Cyanide is the only one on the planet, as I’ve not heard of a second copy of it. Needless to say, there’ll be more on those books soon…

In the meantime, this definitely worth a look, should you find a copy knocking around somewhere. In the meantime, start counting the days until October 7th. Less than two months to go…

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