Cold Evil (1938) by Brian Flynn

Six men meet one evening at the vicarage of St Crayle to tell each other ghost stories. One in particular chills the listeners to the bone. When Martin Burke was in India, he saw three men killed when a chimera appeared. They died apparently from fright, but with a strange red mark behind their ears. The storyteller, Martin Burke, believed that it was caused by some form of mass hypnosis, a projection or enaction of evil itself.

The guests make their own way home in the dead of night, but one, Chinnery, never makes it across the moor. His body is eventually found a week later, dead from the cold that has been creeping across the area since that evening. But by then, Jack Clyst, one of the men at the gathering, has asked his cousin to help find Chinnery. And when he gets there, Anthony Bathurst has his suspicions this is more than just a man getting lost in the dark – for the body has a strange red mark behind his ear…

This week’s #FlynnOnFriday review is book 21 in the Antony Bathurst series – so you might have to wait a bit for the possibility of this one appearing once again. It’s an atmospheric tale with ruminations on the nature of evil – Burke claims to be sensitive to evil itself – and ghostly explorations of the moor. We get a little more insight into ALB, due to his cousin being the narrator. He starts out as being somewhat reluctant to engage our hero, due to a level of familial jealousy, but rapidly comes to appreciate him, eventually championing Bathurst to help push back the evil plaguing the area – mysterious death strikes at least one more time.

We get some new facts about Bathurst – apparently he’s been to Bangkok at some point in his life – but more importantly, we get his age. He’s 32 in this book, which means (presuming he ages as the books progress) he’s 22, fresh out of Oxford, when The Billiard Room Mystery takes place. It’s a reasonable assumption as most of his cases take place over at least a week and often longer – this one’s about a month – so this explains no mention of any military service. If he’s 32 in 1938, this makes him 14 in 1920 when the first stint of National Service ended. However, he is of the correct age to be called up in 1939, but I haven’t read the books written around the time of the outbreak of the war. I’ll let you know…

Back to the book, and while it’s a fun, atmospheric read, it probably isn’t the book to convert you to Flynn if you’re looking for a well-clued mystery. The motive for the crimes comes out of nowhere at the end of the tale, and while the clue that directs Bathurst to the killer is given, the connection that leads to the killer isn’t. And the killer’s overall plan… he/she did what? Seriously?

Anyway, it’s a fun read, just don’t expect an exercise in fair deduction.

2 comments

  1. So this is another one of Flynn’s pulp-style mysteries like Invisible Death and The Spiked Lion? I wonder if Flynn had an hitherto undiscovered connection with the pulp magazines of his time. Maybe he wrote short stories under a pseudonym?

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