Nothing seemed particularly amiss at the dinner party that evening, but the following morning, in the driveway, Jacqueline Hillier was found dying in her car. Her clothes were dirty and torn, but it was an overdose of chloral hydrate that took her life. No one had any idea why she had left the house or where she might have gone – and nobody could explain why, after her funeral, her grave was covered in violets.
Keith Annesley, a successful writer, is holidaying in the area, and finds himself drawn into the investigation into Jacqueline’s death – the natural curiosity of his fellow guest in the local hostelry, Anthony Bathurst, has been piqued. Acting unofficially, outside of the police investigation, his resources are limited, but he will need to act quickly, as death is far from finished with the Hillier family.
Yes, it’s another Brian Flynn review. I’ve managed to get hold of a couple more of his books, and I need to read them in a bit of a hurry for reasons that regular readers can probably guess. Don’t panic if you’re not a fan – well, you should panic because of your complete lack of good taste, obviously J – I’m going to pace out the reviews a bit, but forgive me if the blog goes a little slowly in the next few weeks.
This is the twenty-fourth Anthony Bathurst mystery. It’s from 1939, but there’s no mention of the current politics of the time. Instead, it’s a traditional murder mystery as we follow Bathurst and his new Watson, Annesley, as they investigate. There’s an interesting dynamic here as Bathurst has not been asked to investigate by the local police (who don’t have much of a presence in the tale) and he is respectful of not treading on their toes, unlike some detectives who would just march in and annoy the constabulary (like, um, Bathurst in The Billiard Room Mystery).
One of the criticisms I hear about Flynn’s work is his tendency to occasionally mangle the English language, using ten words when two would do – even Dorothy L Sayers pointed it out in one of her reviews of his work. What people tend not to notice is that this tends to happen with Bathurst is talking to someone that he either thinks appreciates it, or knows does appreciate it. Witness, for example, The Creeping Jenny Mystery, where the excessive verbiage only appears in letters between Bathurst and his best buddy Peter Daventry (“Chin chin and tinkety tonk!”) with the rest of the book written in, well, English. On the other hand, The Edge Of Terror is written in the first person by Dr Michael Bannerman who is exactly on Bathurst’s wavelength and, except from the times when he is talking about medical matters, he does go on a bit. Let me be clear, I really enjoy Flynn’s variety of language, but I know others don’t.
There’s no sign of that verbiage on display here at all despite Bathurst and Annesley being from similar educational backgrounds. OK, there’s a little bit of Tennyson-quoting, but to be fair, that’s actually relevant to the plot. There’s a good variety of characters here – the Hillier family (or what’s left of it), the clientele of the local pub, the vicar, the local doctor, an American visitor to the village… and the tale is nicely paced, with, I think, a very satisfying conclusion, both emotionally and surprisingly, and it’s also a clued mystery – Bathurst explains everything at the end as to how he got on track and although I doubt the reader will have spotted those clues, there are there. One perhaps needs to ask what exactly Bathurst was expecting to happen in the graveyard at the end of the tale, given how it plays out, and there is a bit of a “really?” question about the second death, but these are niggles, rather than problems.
There’s also something of a call-back to Tragedy At Trinket, Flynn’s non-series title which could easily have the subtitle “A Cricket Story With Detective Interruptions”, as Bathurst mentions his nephew, Maurice Folliott, the non-cricketing hero of said book, and even visits the school to follow a lead. Not that you need to read Tragedy At Trinket to follow anything, which is probably a good thing, as it’s pretty hard to find.
All in all, this is a very strong entry into the Anthony Bathurst canon, a really entertaining mystery with a strong emotional core, but at time of writing, it’s virtually impossible to find. I have never seen a copy of this for sale at any price – it’s only thanks to Brian’s estate that I’ve been able to read this. You can, of course, read the first twenty Bathurst mysteries at a bargain price courtesy of Dean Street Press – have you read The Fortescue Candle yet? That one is a cracker and no one seems to talk about it. But this one… well, I doubt at time of writing you can find a copy.
In about six months time, however, things might be a bit different…