Once upon a time, I had never heard of Brian Flynn. I consider myself well-versed in the world of Golden Age detection literature, but his name had never caught my attention. I don’t think this is a surprise, as when I mentioned him to Martin Edwards (who basically knows everything about the subject), he didn’t recall him either. However on October 7th, Brian Flynn’s first ten books will be back in print as ebooks or paperbacks. They’ve got handsome new covers, courtesy of Dean Street Press and there’s been some very positive reactions to the advance review copies. And don’t let this put you off, but they’ve also got introductions written by me.
So what happened? How did Brian Flynn come from near-complete anonymity to this?
It all began at Christmas 2016. My sister-in-law gave me three battered old crime novels that she’d got from a second hand bookshop in Scotland. I think most book collectors have a similar sense of dread when a non-collector buys them a book, as you never know what you’re going to get. But I’m a polite person, so I decided to push one of the books to the top of my reading pile – that book being The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye by Brian Flynn.
I’ve mentioned before a few times how much I love this book. It’s one of the few that gets a mention in the literature about detective fiction, being praised by (and also spoiled by) Sutherland Scott in Blood In Their Ink. And I enjoyed it so much, I decided to do a bit of research on Brian.
I was utterly stunned to discover that Brian had, in fact, written fifty-three mystery novels featuring his gentleman sleuth Anthony Lotherington Bathurst – pronounced “BAT-HURST”, by the way. He also wrote a single novel aimed at the younger market, Tragedy At Trinket. I discovered recently that there were also three more titles written under a pseudonym, but a little more on that later.
So I dived onto Abebooks to see what the situation was regarding his other books. While there were a number of books there, some of them even being affordable, so, as is my wont, I grabbed as many as I could reasonably afford.
Unfortunately, the next book I read was the terrible abridgement of Flynn’s second book, The Case Of The Black Twenty-Two. The abridgement, published during wartime, basically guts the book of all the character and some sub-plots. When I, much more recently, finally got to read the full version, I was staggered by how much more I enjoyed it. But my experience with the abridgement didn’t stop me from optimistically letting Dean Street Press know that Flynn was a name to be considered – something that Curtis Evans had apparently also done.
Following on from that one, my next encounters were with the enjoyable Reverse The Charges and what is my favourite of all of Flynn’s books, Tread Softly. And it was about that point, when I realised that I wanted to collect Flynn properly, that I discovered that a large number of his books didn’t seem to exist, in the online second hand market at least. In the past two and a half years, I’ve managed to get my grubby little hands on twenty-nine out of the fifty-three Bathurst titles, something that I consider to be something of a major achievement. You see, of the remaining twenty-four titles, I’ve seen a grand total of… wait for it… THREE titles for sale at any price, two of which, I kid you not, were around a thousand pounds each.
This is one of the issues with blogging on authors that are long out of print. As a writer, I want to interest people in the books that I enjoy. But with a very limited supply of Flynn titles on the market, I ended up increasing the demand and, naturally, the prices. This was definitely the case here – luckily, as my pile of Patrick Quentin titles can attest to, when I find an author I like, I tend to stockpile books to an extent.
Now if you want to republish books, this presents something of a problem. You see, you need three things basically – a publisher, the rights and the text of the books themselves.
Enter my wife. Now my wife has many gifts – eternal patience with the teetering piles of books lying around the house being a very useful one – but she is also a genius at family history. So I gave her the basic information I had on Brian Flynn, and basically half an hour later, she gave me the email address of a possible grandson. One speculative email later and I was in touch – my good lady wife had hit the bullseye first time.
As it happened, Brian’s grandson had just re-read The Sharp Quillet, an enjoyable tale of murder during a horse-race. His daughter, you see, is an actress and had just appeared in a mystery series (more on that at a later date) and the production company gave her a copy, which had then been passed on to her father. He’d read some of Brian’s work in the past, but on looking at The Sharp Quillet, he had thought that it was a shame that his grandfather’s work had all but disappeared.
I quickly introduced the grandson to Dean Street Press and one contract between them later, I was fortunate enough, after sufficient pleading, to be allowed to write the introductions. Before I did this, though, I made a trip to London to meet Brian’s family. While trying not to drool too much over the multitude of titles that they had that I had never seen any trace of before, including a number of beautiful dust jackets, I had a wonderful time talking about all things Brian. This was one of my primary sources for the introductions, along with a couple of articles that bookseller Jamie Sturgeon sent me copies of that he discovered in a short-lived crime magazine, written by Brian himself.
The piece of information that excited me most was discovering that Brian used a pseudonym for more mysteries – well, three more at least. This time, I learned my lesson and didn’t mention it on the blog until I had tracked down all three titles written by “Charles Wogan”. They are pretty rare, especially as bought the only copy I could find of two of them on the Internet before I broke the news… Sorry about that.
[For the curious, Charles Wogan was a Jacobite soldier of fortune who Brian was clearly interested in as he gets a mention in two of the first ten books…]
As for the text of the books, I had managed to accumulate the first seven books quite quickly – Invisible Death was the luckiest find, as it did not get a US reprint, but there are a few copies knocking around. It took a long while to find Murder En Route, as the sole copy for sale for a long time had a ridiculous postage rate from the US. If I recall correctly, the book was about fifteen quid, but the postage was twenty-five! I enquired if there was another way of posting it – a week later, the postage increased to forty-odd quid! Luckily a paperback appeared on eBay that I managed to snaffle, and luckily The Orange Axe (also not reprinted in the US) also passed my way. The final book of the ten, The Triple Bite, Flynn’s love-letter to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, luckily was in the family’s collection, so we had our texts.
At this point, Dean Street Press took over and did all the technical stuff like scanning, printing, cover design, etc. The covers, by the way, where possible do take images from the original covers where a) we have a copy them and b) the image worked. If you want a look at the dust jacket imagery that I have (now with an added image of the UK edition of The Case Of The Black Twenty-Two) then take a look here.
Now, we’re less than fifty days away from publication. I can legitimately call myself a “crime fiction historian”, which is nice, but more importantly, you, dear reader, can now pre-order the first ten titles. What you’ll get is ten classic mystery novels written with a primary aim of entertaining the reader. I’d recommend starting with the third title, The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye. The first title, The Billiard-Room Mystery, is good, but you wouldn’t recommend someone trying Christie to start with The Mysterious Affair At Styles, would you? After all, that’s the book that hooked me and I’ve every confidence that it will hook you too…
Oh, a final word – in case you are immediately entranced by Brian’s work and start collecting your own copies. There is more than one Brian Flynn out there – do check out my definitive bibliography – if the book isn’t on this list, it’s the wrong Brian.
UPDATE: I’m writing this roughly a year later with some fantastic news, namely that an additional ten books will be released in October 2020. Books 11 (The Padded Door) to 20 (Tread Softly) will be coming your way, again from Dean Street Press with a brand new introductions from me again – but you can skip those and just get straight into the narrative. This selection contains my favourite Flynn title and one of my favourite motives that I’ve ever seen in crime fiction (although that one could be a bit of a Marmite opinion.) Anyway, keep an eye out, enjoy the books, and if they like them, start asking Dean Street Press about books 21 to 30…