The Seventh Sign (1952) by Brian Flynn

A serial killer is terrorising London. Every few weeks, a letter arrives at a newspaper office stating the area of London and a window of dates. And then every time, a woman is found dead with a cord round her neck, with the killer’s signature nearby. All of London is in fear of “The Web”.

The police are at a loss. No matter what precautions they take, The Web always seems to outsmart them, being one step ahead despite the warnings. Even Anthony Lotherington Bathurst himself is at a loss. If a man is willing to kill seemingly at random, if he is always one step ahead – how can even the great detective outwit him? For the killings keep coming…

I found another one! The Seventh Sign is the forty-first Anthony Bathurst mystery, so, should things proceed as they currently do, you’ve a few years before this one sees the light of day. And it’s definitely worth the wait, if only for…

OK, this is going to be hard to review without spoilers, but I’m going to try.

This is, first of all, a riveting serial killer thriller. In my experience, Golden Age serial killer books fall into three categories – the “not really a serial killer” story, where the killer is hiding the tree in a forest, so to speak, the “serial killer with a motive”, where there is a genuine reason that the killer has for his choice of victims, and the “it’s a loony” serial killer, which is much harder to fit into the genre comfortably, but plenty have tried. They all have their problems – the first has the reader questioning whether there was an easier way to achieve their ends, the second has the reader asking why the detective couldn’t discover earlier that the victims were linked and the third…  well, it can feel like a let down.

Of course I can’t say what sort of book this one is without spoiling it, hence the difficulty in reviewing it in any sort of detail, but Flynn manages to distract from the usual problems (not avoid, just distract) by cranking up the pressure as the page count continues. From the mocking letters from “The Web” to Bathurst’s frustration at seeing no light in his investigation, Flynn takes every opportunity to turn the screw to increase the tension until a great denouement.

But… well, you see I haven’t mentioned the killer’s calling card, or the rationale behind his nickname. He is called The Web because at the scene of the crime, along with his own footprints, he leaves a mysterious webbed footprint, like a bird. As you do. He’s lucky he wasn’t called The Duck. And I will just say that the rationale, such as it is, for this marking is… well, a bit of a letdown. Especially as the book doesn’t need that part of it – the rest of it is a great read, with a nice bit of misdirection at the end. I don’t think the killer’s identity is remotely clued, but the link between the victims is nicely paced, with me twigging it about a page before good old ALB.

Those of you desperate for a Brian Flynn serial killer story – and you know you are – will be pleased to know that The Edge Of Terror, Book 12, is one such beast – and a very different tale to this one. And plans are afoot, shall we say, for that one…

2 comments

  1. I think it’s time you told us the date for the release of the next 10. I think your introductions should be ready by now. 😊

    Like

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