Captain James Hassell has been working the sea since his youth and can see his retirement on the horizon. His ship, the SS Jane Vosper, has a couple of years left in her and so, he thinks, does his life on the ocean wave. But on his latest journey, on the way to the Madeira Islands, explosions are felt below deck. The crew abandon ship, and watch it sink beneath the waves.
Back in London, the insurance companies demand to know what happened to the ship. How did the explosives get onto the boat in the first place? Why would the ship have been deliberately sunk? When an investigator disappears, Inspector French is called in. But how can he investigate when the evidence is at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean?
This is the fourteenth Inspector French mystery from Freeman Wills Crofts. Crofts, I believe, tended to oscillate between the police procedural style and inverted mysteries. I say “I believe” as every Crofts book I’ve read – The Pit-Prop Syndicate, The Sea Mystery, Mystery In The Channel and this one – has been of the first sort. Fair enough, I’m not much of a fan of inverted mysteries.
I said when I reviewed Mystery In The Channel that structurally it resembled The Sea Mystery – the problem is posed and then Inspector French investigates the crime step by step, never concealing from the reader his discoveries, until he finally puts two and two together to get his hands on the criminals involved. And despite us having been aware for a while, along with French, as to who the villain is, there is still a surprise or two left in store.
And, as you might guess, this is exactly the same, structurally at least. I wonder if that’s always the case when Crofts writes about boats. Who knows? Well, probably people who have read more Crofts than me would know. But that is not a criticism at all. This is a very entertaining and engrossing read. It’s always pleasing to be able to say that Julian Symons was wrong about his humdrum accusations and this is another opportunity to do so. This is a great read and reasonably attainable in Green Penguin form.
Just The Facts, Ma’am: WHERE – Any country other than the UK or US (the boat sinks off Portugal)
Glad to hear that this one is worth hunting down. He did love writing stories set in and around the water and there are some common themes and elements in all of those works. The only one that I haven’t enjoyed much along those lines was Found Floating (with its chapter explaining how an engine works – Crofts at his worst!).
Crofts certainly did write some inverted stories in the middle of his career but as far as I know there are just four novels (The 12:30 From Croydon, Antidote to Venom, Mystery on Southampton Water/Crime on the Solent, The Affair at Little Wokeham/Double Tragedy). Two of them are part of the British Library range though which I think makes them seem a bigger part of his output.
Now to go seek out a copy of this one!
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