“Which Brian Flynn book should I start with?”
It’s a question that I get asked quite a bit – with twenty books out there now, which should be the one book to read?
While my natural reaction is that you should read them all, I understand the question perfectly. With a smaller number of books to choose from, a series is more attractive to some. So do you need to read them all in order? Well, no, not really. There is an element of continuity in Flynn’s writing. In part, I think it was Brian self-promoting his other books, as the references to other earlier cases are fairly slight – “it was just like the time we hid in the wardrobe when investigating The Sussex Cuckoo”, that sort of thing. The only one I can think of that verges on a spoiler is a mention of The Case Of The Black Twenty-Two in The Spiked Lion which gives a heavy hint towards the motive. But there is also something of a continuity for Anthony Bathurst as we find out a little more about his love-life (and the women he has accidentally mentally scarred for life by not noticing them) as the books progress. But I wouldn’t even go so far as to call it a subplot, so it’s not essential to read them in order at all.
So, given that some people don’t want to commit to reading twenty murder mysteries in one go (or as I call it, August), I’ve caved in and done a Brian Flynn Top Ten.
To be clear, this is the top ten of the twenty Dean Street Press releases to date. There are a number of the other books that I’ve read that could easily be in this list and there are still some that I haven’t read that also could be in the list.
It wasn’t easy to compile this list. Books came and went, the order went all over the place, and I know some people disagree wholeheartedly with this. I’ve seen fulsome praise for all of the titles to date, especially The Orange Axe and The Triple Bite and I’m still undecided if I should have included Bathurst’s debut, The Billiard Room Mystery and, well, at least five other titles. But what are lists for if not to be argued about. So hear we go, in reverse order.
A serial killer threatens the town of Chelmersley although it becomes rapidly clear that the killer is not striking at random. An impressive death count, and one of the few mysteries to involve a stepped-on chocolate as a clue.
The Home Secretary, after spending a few days accumulating enemies, is murdered in a hotel room. But how does that link to an actress being poisoned on stage in the middle of a play? And it contains something so delightful, on a par with the reason for the choice of murder weapon in The Tragedy Of Y.
A dead body that is not what is seems, and murderous messages hidden inside Christmas crackers (or bonbons, as they are called here) gives a distinctly unfestive feel to Vernon House. Also available in German, should you be so inclined…
David Somerset, patriarch of his family company, is lured to a village in East Gloucestershire to a sinister meeting, and is never seen again. Why did one of his sons disappear at the same time? And is the other son in danger too?
A favourite of some. When a mysterious passenger is strangled when alone on the top deck of a bus, Bathurst brings together a merry band of investigators (including an elderly vicar) to get to the truth. Including one of the most amazing pieces of casual showing off – the bit with Bathurst and the hymn numbers.
Bathurst is enlisted to prove the innocence of a man whose sole defence is “I’d happily of killed him but I wouldn’t have hit him from behind” as he goes to trial against a notorious hanging judge. Contains one of the biggest surprises (about halfway through) that I’ve read in a mystery novel and a surprising fact about Stilton.
Mark Kenriston disappeared on the eve of his wedding and, as her nuptials approach, his sister is being terrorised by an unseen presence. The hunting horn sounding across the moors seems to be a portent of doom. Possibly Brian’s most obvious homage to Holmes, with echoes of The Speckled Band and The Hound Of The Baskervilles, with a dash of the Maquis de Sade!
A mysterious cat burglar is plaguing the houses of the rich and famous – Creeping Jenny, who only ever steals one item. But a murder occurs during one theft, it seems that the fun and games are over. If only someone could find Anthony Bathurst… Something of a romp of a mystery, I love this book, an early sign that Brian was willing to experiment while still keeping the reader hooked.
The book that should have made Brian far better known that he ever was. A masterpiece of misdirection, with masked balls, missing jewels and death in dentist’s chair. The book that started this obsession of mine that I’m so pleased I can now share with all of you.
If a man kills when dreaming, it isn’t murder – it isn’t even a crime. But can Bathurst prove that Claude Merivale was awake when he killed his wife? The book that convinced me that I needed, somehow, to get Brian back into print. Apart from the unique premise, the epistolary structure of the opening sections along with the chapter concerning the jurors make this a cut above that should be much better known that it is. But of course, dear reader, now you can change that. Read it and then tell your friends!
And now I’ve written this, I’m thinking of the others from the first twenty that could be in this list – practically all of them in fact… Oh, just go and buy all twenty! And then start writing to Dean Street Press to ask for more – there are fifty-three of them, after all. We’re not even halfway…