Men For Pieces (1949) by Brian Flynn

’Tis all a chequerboard of nights and days, where Destiny with men for pieces plays;

Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays, and one by one back in the closet lays.

Omar Khayyam

Andrew Murray, the manager of Delaney’s Bank, wants to see Peter Oliver, a young clerk, concerning an irregularity in a financial security. However, it seems that Oliver hasn’t reported for work that day.

Stella Forrest, Oliver’s girlfriend is similarly concerned, and when, a few days later, she spots Anthony Bathurst at the restaurant where she works, she entreats him to help her. Breaking into Oliver’s home, he finds Oliver’s body – he has apparently killed himself, cutting his own throat with a cut-throat razor. Bathurst is not convinced – and when Oliver’s sister spots a misplaced bath-plug, he is hot on the trail of a cunning murderer…

The thirty-sixth Anthony Bathurst mystery, I chose this one for my next library visit as I was hoping to track down the earliest appearance of Bathurst’s occasional sidekick Helen Repton, who plays a major role in the next book, Black Agent. However, this isn’t her debut – she doesn’t appear in this one at all. Instead Bathurst and MacMorran are in harness to track down Oliver’s murderer – there’s a nice bit of sparring early on as MacMorran is insistent on it being suicide- quite reasonably, to be honest – with Bathurst convinced of the alternative.

While there’s nothing to make this stand out in the Flynn canon, this is still a great mystery tale. Red herrings abound, with missing money from the bank being mysteriously returned, a disappearing central character and a good collection of suspects.

Flynn does another thing very well – a surprising murderer – and he caught me out here again, with a killer that makes perfect sense and yet eluded me completely. The motive is well done, with a central unasked question being the primary clue that works very well.

There’s some nice period touches here with a feeling of post-war austerity in particular a restaurant menu having “blue-pencilled” items due to rationing. And as a bonus, Flynn, who constantly plugs Bathurst’s past cases, manages to plug his alter-ego, as a literary agent mentions the writer Charles Wogan.

It’s definitely worth your while, but another sign that Flynn’s talent for an entertaining murder mystery extends well into his career.

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