The Case Of The Painted Ladies (1940) by Brian Flynn

“I cannot tell you of your future – because there is no future for you.”

Three remarkable things happen to Aubrey Coventry in one day. First, he is contacted by Wall Street financier Silas Montgomery with a lucrative business proposition – although Montgomery insists on meeting him at two a.m. the following day. Second, at a village garden party, a fortune teller cannot read his future, as he does not have one. And thirdly, a shabbily-dressed man reacts with a vicious snarl when simply asked for a light.

The fortune teller is proven correct when Coventry is found dead in his office the next morning. Private Detective Anthony Bathurst finds himself on the trail of the snarling man, reported to have been following Coventry in the night. To unmask the culprit, however, Bathurst is going to need help from some very special friends . . .

As regular readers of the blog will know, Brian Flynn is my claim to fame, having been instrumental in getting the first twenty of his mystery novels republished via Dean Street Press. They have proved to be very popular – you all have excellent tastes, dear readers – with The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye winning Reprint of the Year in 2019 and Tread Softly coming second in 2020. Well, you are all lucky people, as there are ten more on their way – on the 6th September to be precise.

I’ve reviewed all but two of them so far, so, with the re-releases only a month away, it’s time for the ninth review of these titles to whet your appetite. These ten titles show Brian trying a few experiments in format, with a couple of inverted (or sort-of inverted mysteries) and one that is more of a thriller, but The Case Of The Painted Ladies is an out-and-out mystery with something very interesting about it.

The mystery itself is an intriguing one, and Bathurst and MacMorran are on sparkling form as they search for the truth behind the tragedy of Aubrey Coventry. Forgive me for being a little vague, but it’s been a long time since I read this one for the introductions, but there’s a very nice idea and trick used here for the “how” of one aspect of the case.

The other reason for me forgetting the precise details of the actual case is the reason why this is a book that I believe to be unique in detective fiction, namely the appearance in the story of detectives created by other authors. You see, for reasons that are far too complicated to describe, the plan to trap the villain involves staging a radio panel game. This is based very heavily on Flynn’s own appearance on such a show, his, I believe, only such appearance, where he was on a team of writers (including Val Gielgud) against a team of BBC celebrities. The game show is reproduced in some detail in this book, with Brian and the team of writers being replaced by Bathurst and a team of sleuths.

I’m not spoiling who those sleuths are, but at least one of them was from a top tier writer of the time (no, it’s not Poirot) and the other two were hardly obscure. A general reader might not recognise them, but if you’ve a reasonable knowledge of classic crime fiction, then you will. As far as I can tell, this is the only such occurrence, at least during the Golden Age, of sleuths that were still being written about appearing in someone else’s novel. I presume that Brian had permission to do so, as he didn’t seem to socialise much with other writers – maybe the publisher sorted it out for him.

Anyway, while the radio show denouement does stretch plausibility – but what great detective story doesn’t? – this is a fine outing for Bathurst, loads of fun. It’ll be out from Dean Street Press on September 6th, along with the other nine from Cold Evil to The Grim Maiden. And don’t worry about forgetting, there’s every chance I’ll talk about him again soon…

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