East Anglia, the village of Chaucer and the local vicar, the Reverend Giles Gresham, is on night manoeuvres. Once a week, for the past few weeks, an aircraft has been heard near the village and he is determined to investigate – but all he ends up with is a fractured skull and a night spent in a ditch.
Days later, a young choirboy collapses after singing his solo in church, the tell-tale whiff of almonds on his breath. Is the death related to the mysterious aircraft and/or the assault on Gresham? Luckily for the village, one of those attending the church service was Sebastian Stole, who soon becomes determined to find the murderer. But when another death takes place, it seems the killer may be more ruthless than he thought…
The third and final book written by Brian Flynn under the pseudonym Charles Wogan. You would think from the blurb at the back of the book that more were on their way, but that was not to be the case.
To an extent, it was probably a good thing as it enabled Flynn to return to the Anthony Bathurst series. The first Stole book, The Hangman’s Hands, is interesting as it sets up the sleuth – a refugee from a fictional European country who would have been the king who has a habit of mangling the English language – and makes use of it somewhat, with the amusing touch of Stole buying the murder victim’s house so that he can investigate. The second, The Horror At Warden Hall, tones down the linguistic problems, but suffers somewhat from an obvious solution that everyone makes a point of overlooking. And this one… well, it could be a Bathurst mystery, but for the fact that the sleuth just isn’t as entertaining as good old Anthony.
It’s a lovely set-up for a mystery, with the apparently impossible poisoning of a choir boy, and there’s some decent misdirection on display. Is the vicar’s suspiciously attractive Italian new wife as innocent as she says? What is one of the other choirboys up to? How important is the fact that his surname is very similar to the victim?
One particular ploy (on the author’s behalf) may annoy the reader with its eventual inconsequentiality to the plot, but to be honest it actually makes sense if you think about it. What is funniest about the book is the villain’s plan. I’ve said before that some motives in Flynn’s work have dated a bit – Conspiracy At Angel is based around a technology trick, technology that is very particular to when it was written, and The Feet Of Death has a similar issue. This one isn’t technology based but it is based around something that was so particular to the time… well, I can imagine many a reader not realising that something was actually a crime that needed to be kept quiet. I’ll say no more. If Dean Street Press get as far as this one, then I’ll do some research and put it in an afterword. Until then, you’ve got a long wait, as this is as rare as an exceptionally rare thing.
The whole thing is a minor work from Flynn, but it’s still got enough going for it to make it worth your while.