To Inspector Goodacre, Police Station, Chelmersley, Essex
The town of Chelmersley and its environs are far from pleasing to me. On each occasion when an unknown Fate has decreed that I should be in its vicinity, insult and annoyance have been accorded me. Which is unfortunate for I never forget! Kindly note therefore, that I have decided to take matters into my own hands. Within the next six months from to-day, that is to say by the 31st dayof August next, I shall have removed from your midst one of the most prominent citizens of your most atrocious town. I have not yet made up my mind which one I shall honour in this way, or the exact day upon which the removal will take place. Circumstances will guide me. Moreover the matter may not end there! Of that, however, more anon. Sufficient for the period ending for the 31st August will by the evil thereof.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I was going to get to read this one. It was the last Brian Flynn title for me to locate the source text for Dean Street Press – even Brian’s estate don’t own a copy of this one – but luckily a collector got in touch who owns a copy. However, that doesn’t help me read it just yet and it’s hard to write introductions for books that you haven’t read, but then I had something of an idea. You see, the Doctor part of “The Puzzle Doctor” isn’t an affectation, and it just happens that my alma mater happens to have one of those libraries that just happens to have every book ever in it and I still live quite close to it. Can’t believe it took me three years to remember that…
So, now that I’ve read the Holy Grail of Brian Flynn mysteries, was it worth the wait? Oh yes, it’s a load of fun.
Most GA writers take a spin at the serial killer story, but few pull it off properly. Very few. There aren’t many motives to kill a seemingly random selection of people, so they tend to duplicate themselves somewhat. And there’s the “random nutcase” motivation, which has deflated more than one cracking read – some from the same author. And then there’s The ABC Murders…
Flynn wisely steers away from some of the traps of the idea as although the book starts off appearing to be a random killer, it’s clear there’s a motive here when the first two victims are related to each other. So the plot instead becomes a) who is the murderer and b) who else is on their list? And it’s quite a long list – there’s some serious carnage by the end of the book.
The first couple of chapters are a little odd, as Flynn has reverted to a narrator once again, this time Doctor Michael Bannerman, a local doctor in Great Steeping, a village near Chelmersley, who once played Rugby for the mighty Quins, clearly has a drinking problem and comes across as a bit of an arse, to be honest. Once the plot kicks in, his more annoying traits fade away as he helps “A.L.B”, i.e. Antony Lotherington Bathurst, investigate the murders.
One of Flynn’s quirks was continuity. While it never dominates his stories, usually just a recollection or a side character from an earlier tale, here we follow up on the revelation from The Orange Axe that the reason why A.L.B. shuns romantic involvements (which, according to The Padded Door, ruins at least four women’s potential happiness) is a broken engagement by meeting said woman, Mrs Rosemary Coterill. I don’t recall any other appearances from her, but a) there’s a bunch of titles that I still haven’t read and b) I might have missed it anyway. I’ll let you know…
I think the killer is guessable, but the deduction chapter – kindly written by A.L.B. himself due to Bannerman being unconscious for those parts of the tale – does explain everything properly. This is something of a fairground ride of a mystery novel, ricocheting all over the place, but it is loads of fun. Hopefully you can see for yourself later in the year…
US and British University libraries, and the interlibrary loan networks they are part of, can indeed be a great resource for classic detection aficionados.
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Thanks for another enticing review, Doc. I’m looking forward to that second serving of Brian Flynn!
Cheers, TomCat. I was planning to do 11 to 20 chronologically but due to an odd bit of cataloguing from the library, it’ll be book 17, The Sussex Cuckoo next…
A Golden Age serial killer mystery – I’ll definitely be getting this when it comes out.
Looking forward to the next set. Looks like it will be another great set of 10 books. Let’s hope they are published sooner rather than later.
I’m hoping by the end of the year. There are all sorts of logistics to sort out first, not least me getting my hands on the books to read them for the introductions. Following that, mostly out of my hands, getting the texts to scan them, meticulously checking the scans, designing the covers, writing the blurbs… And bear in mind, Dean St Press have many other similar projects on the go at the same time. I think given how long Brian’s been out of print, 10 a year is a pretty good pace – we wouldn’t want to over indulge you…
[…] so I buckled down and tried to get past my objections. Even PD said that Bannerman behaves like an ass at the start. I took that to mean that the plot would take hold […]