The Threefold Cord (1947) by Francis Vivian

“And if a man prevail against that is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes, Chapter Four, Verse 12.

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Inspector Knollis was not usually one to be bothered with minor incidents, but the murder of a budgerigar and a cat, both with a piece of blue cord tied around their necks, he believes that something sinister is afoot in Frederick Manchester’s household. He heads there as quickly as possible – but alas not quickly enough. Manchester is found dead, his head nearly taken off by an axe – and a blue cord is found in his pocket.

Knollis finds himself up investigating a small circle of suspects. As the guests in the house are discovered to have closer ties to the victim than it seemed, and a dark secret is uncovered, Knollis will need all his wits about him to apprehend the murderer.

Francis Vivian wrote ten Inspector Knollis mysteries, all of which have been re-released by Dean Street Press recently, and this series certainly ranks in my top three of their re-releases, along with Christopher Bush and Brian Flynn (yes, I’m biased…). To date, I’ve read The Singing Masons, The Ladies of Locksley and The Elusive Bowman and enjoyed all three – and you’ll never guess what, but I enjoyed this one just as much.

I do like Knollis and his straight-talking nature. Rather than listening to several metric tonnes of bull-excrement from a suspect and then, when they leaving, turning to his Watson/Hastings/talking-dog-sidekick and say “Hastings/Watson/Fido, I think he was not telling us the whole truth”, he, like a proper policeman, just calls the suspect a liar there and then. Very refreshing, especially when the lies are pretty obvious ones.

I also learned something from this – and I found it so interesting, I thought I’d share it. One character uses the phrase “Sweet Fanny Adams” and my first thought was that this was a bit early for this euphemism. Apparently not, as it was used as a way to “disguise” the phrase it is a euphemism for, with the “Fanny Adams” bit taken from nineteenth century sailor slang for unpalatable tinned meat. And they used the phrase “Fanny Adams” as she was a young girl who was savagely butchered and cut into small pieces a few years earlier. Isn’t that a lovely story?

Anyway, back to this one. It’s an absolute cracker, with a distinctly effective finale, and although not a vast amount happens in the tale, and at times this reader felt that a map to work out who was who at what point on the night of the murder might help, it transpired to be not necessary.

The suspects all seem to be well thought out characters, especially when their secrets are all revealed – apart from the hereditary facial wound which is just nonsense – and there’s an effective growing sense of darkness as the tale progresses that really impressed me.

This is definitely well worth your time – and it’s only a couple of quid on ebook, along with the rest of the Knollis series.

4 comments

  1. Really excellent book. I’ve read three of his; ‘Singing Masons’, ‘Dead opposite the Church’ and this one which is my favourite of the three. Terrific feeling for character and these wonderful dramatic endings that remind me of Hitchcock films.

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  2. Agree with the reviewer. His two best books are The Singing Masons and this one. A neglected semi-classic that truly deserves to be made available on kindle.

    Like

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