Laurence “Boodle” Raikes, the finest schoolboy batsman in the land played for Remenham, and Richard “Dick” Templeton, the finest bowler, played for Lanham – until for some reason, just before their final year of school, their fathers transferred them to the prestigious private school of Trinket. But while Templeton settles into life (and the cricket team), Raikes is strangely resistant and refuses to play.
While the head boys of the school decide on Raikes’ punishment – because that’s how authority seems to work in this school – preparations for this year’s cricket tournament are disrupted when the dead body of one of the schoolteachers is found floating in the river. Can the culprit be brought to justice without disrupting the cricket? The police seem to be clueless, but one schoolboy, Maurice Otho Folliott, head of Monckton’s House, is determined to get to the bottom of matters. It seems investigation runs in the family…
I’ve sort of been avoiding this Brian Flynn title – it’s his sole non-series title under his own name and what little I knew about it pointed it to being a schoolboy adventure yarn rather than a murder mystery. I did start reading it once upon a time, but the first few chapters are just so full of cricket stuff that I put it down. Without the lure of the most excellent Mr Bathurst to entertain me – The Five Red Fingers has a similar dollop of horse racing jargon in it – I just grabbed a different Flynn title instead.
Well, a) I don’t have a different Flynn title to grab instead anymore and b) this was published in 1934, the same year as three Bathurst mysteries, The League of Matthias, The Horn and The Case Of The Purple Calf. And as I’m currently writing introductions for those three, along with seven others – now why would I be doing that? – I thought it was important to look at everything Brian wrote in that period. Hence the cricket-filled cricket mystery that is Tragedy At Trinket.
And there’s a lot of cricket here, which is a bit of a problem, as I’m not much of a fan. As I’ve aged, I’ve appreciated it as background noise, but as a child, I had an aversion to it, mostly due to being forced to play it at school. I’m a delicate flower, don’t you know, and those cricket balls are awfully hard. However Brian loved his sports, particularly cricket, horse racing and football, and each of them features to an extent in his books – this is the cricket one.
Unfortunately the book seems to oscillate from cricket to mystery and then back again – it’s not clear what, if any, the cricket team shenanigans, such as they are, have to do with the plot. It’s actually hard to see what they have to do with anything, as we’re in that strange public school land where that I just don’t understand. The multiple heads of house seem to hold almost as much sway as the teachers in the establishment, but we only ever see three or four of the staff – there’s an assumption that the casual reader knows what a fag is, in public school terminology and all that. And every time the plot begins to intrigue… oh look, more cricket.
As for the mystery, well, it’s not enough to fill a book, hence, presumably the cricket. Our investigator, Maurice, is, oh yes, the nephew of Anthony Bathurst – despite the Bathurst books being published by a different company – and he talks like Bathurst too. The problem here is that Bathurst’s at times over-the-top verbiage is always a contrast to those around him. Here, unfortunately, everyone talks like him – and an exaggerated version of him too. Templeton acts as his Watson, but Watson is supposed to be a straightforward individual – while Maurice does have the brains here, Templeton is just as verbose as he is, and it can get quite tiresome. Most of the rest of the school talk like that too…
I’d be keen to know if this was supposed to be the first in a series of school-time adventures. I could be wrong, but I think this sort of thing generally didn’t have murders in them, and there’s every chance that Brian, when finishing this, looked around and realised that he can’t keep killing members of the faculty on a regular basis, hence never returning to Trinket. There’s actually a rather satisfying conclusion to the whole thing, but you have to wade through a lot of cricket to get there.
We also get a snapshot of Brian’s reading preferences. Apart from a shameless plug for his own The Billiard Room Mystery, Philip Macdonald’s Colonel Gethryn gets a mention, and Maurice suggests that “The Two School Porters” would be a “ripping title for a mystery yarn by Francis Beeding“.
As it’s not a Bathurst title, there are no plans at the moment for a reprint of this one, which is probably a good thing. To the Flynn connoisseur, there are things of interest here and to the social historian, there are some interesting bits in the cricket and the depiction of the school, if they are indeed accurate. But the layperson, unless they really, really, like their cricket… just wait until the end of the year, as there will, with luck, be ten much better books seeing the light of day for the first time in quite a few decades…
With luck? Don’t tease us, Steve! Tread Softly has been dangled in front of me too long to have it snatched away at the last moment. I’ve already stored The Five Red Fingers and The Creeping Jenny Mystery away for when it gets colder again, like a squirrel. More reprints are essential!
With luck simply means that things could always get delayed. But the wheels are in motion – and rest assured, it’s not just Tread Softly to look forward to…
Intriguing. Do you think he was trying to begin a career in children’s writing and thought better of it? I guess if he had already published three books in one year, he might need to do something different to get away with publishing a fourth.
Charters and Caldicott.
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