The Case Of The Purple Calf (1934) by Brian Flynn

Sir Austin Kemble is adamant that Anthony Bathurst is talking nonsense. The death of a young woman in a car crash was simply that – an accidental car crash. Bathurst, however, has another opinion. Three women have died in road accidents, all with a common thread – a travelling funfair was in the vicinity at the time.

Acting on his own, Bathurst heads off to investigate the scenes of the time, but he is running to catch up, having been diverted by another case after his suspicions first arose, and the trail is going cold. What connects the funfair to the Purple Calf night club? What actually killed the women? And will Bathurst suffer the same fate?

You might have noticed that I haven’t previously reviewed this one – one of the twenty Anthony Bathurst mysteries re-released by Dean Street Press with the help of little old me – so I thought I’d better get round to it. It was released in the US under the title of The Ladder Of Death, which is a very vague spoiler as to… something.

So why didn’t I review it? Well, it was the last of books 11 to 20 that I read, and I was saving the review for publication day. I’d read it, obviously, as I wrote the introduction to it, but I’d posted the reviews already for the rest. I left this for last… and then regretted it. A bit.

You see, this is the weakest of books eleven to twenty. Possibly the weakest of all the first twenty books. I know one reviewer whose first experience of Flynn was this book, and it didn’t convince him to come back for more. Given the US publishers at this point were picking and choosing which books to reissue, I’m a bit lost as to why this one, even with a title change, was picked ahead of, say, The Horn. Or The Padded Door.

The problem is, the plot is rather convoluted, as one might expect from the ingredients – a fun fair, an arcane murder method, mysterious car crashes and a seedy night-club. It’s not uncommon for the villain’s plan in a murder mystery not to make much sense in hindsight, but it’s pretty obviously daft in this one. There’s more that a whiff of the Scooby Doos about the finale as well…

So I didn’t want to write a review of this one on launch day, because it’s one for those who are already fans of the series. It’s perfectly readable and Bathurst is as entertaining as ever, but don’t start with this one… check out this list instead. And if you’ve read the first twenty, you might be pleased to know that plans are afoot – more are on their way (slowly).


  1. Ah yes he infamous Ladder of Death that had me swear off Brian Flynn for close to fifteen years. I could not finish it at all. I knew it was a stinker. Weakest of 11 – 20. Wow. Probably weakest of his entire output? I couldn’t finish the damn thing all those years ago. But I’ve since enjoyed several of the books I bought in this worthy reprint series. Just proves if you pick a bad one you ought to give a writer a second chance– especially if there are so many to choose from. So glad this has turned out to be rewarding for you and Rupert. Flynn did have quite a talent and a wild imagination. It’s good to see him resurrected from the oblivion of forgotten writers.


    • There is one that is certainly on a par with this one, Conspiracy At Angel, the one that Barzun & Taylor picked out of the masses to summarise his entire output with. There are interesting points about it, but it’s not great. Glad you’ve enjoyed more since 😀


    • Dear Mr. Puzzle doctor and friends, I completely agree that this is one of the worst books from the collection. Furthermore, I feel that it is paramount to give Brian Flynn a second chance and this is something I am willing to do going forward.

      Out of interest may I ask are you an actual doctor, mr pussy doctor? And if so how do you spend your time away from the clinic apart from reviewing marvellous crime fiction.

      Yours faithfully,


      • I’m sorry, but if you continually refer to me by that nickname, then I am not going to bother responding to you. Giving the benefit of the doubt that it is an autocorrect error, then you can find out more at the About Me tab at the top of the blog.


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