Bathurst 42 – The Running Nun (1952) by Brian Flynn

“He saw a nun running. It occurred to him that never before in his life had he seen a running nun.”

Henry Vaughan had an appointment at the Leucadian Club with Clare Maradick but she failed to show up. Heading round to her apartment, he soon finds out why – she is sitting down, dressed up for a night on the town, but dead as a doornail. Suspecting poison, Vaughan’s first reaction is to get out of the apartment, trying (unsuccessfully) to obliterate all trace of his presence. Detective Inspector Mottram is not to be led astray, however, and soon Vaughan is on trial for Clare’s murder.

Vaughan’s mother is convinced her son is innocent and as she’s the second cousin of the mother of Helen Repton, Anthony Bathurst’s colleague, she enlists Bathurst to exonerate her son. But with the trail going cold, Vaughan being strangely unhelpful and a key witness disappearing without trace, can Bathurst possibly find the thread of truth? And what does it all have to do with the mysterious running nun?

Yes, I’ve been to the Bodleian again, hunting obscure books. I promised myself that I’d save the three remaining unread Brian Flynn titles until after books 21 to 30 had been re-released on September 6th – i.e. in ten days time! – but I’m fickle like that, I’m afraid. What actually happened is that one of the books I’d planned to read couldn’t be found, so I had to pre-order something else quickly in order for it to be there when I went – it takes about two days for the books to arrive from the stacks – and oddly enough, my mind went straight to Brian. What can you say, I know quality…

This is the forty-second Anthony Bathurst mystery, so it’ll probably be a couple of years before Dean Street Press get round to it – don’t forget to keep pestering them about it though, just in case – and one might expect that, as with many authors, the quality might decline as you get this close to the end of their output. Well, you can put that out of your mind, as this is an impressive piece of work. Even at this stage of his career, Brian was still varying his style and producing books that can still surprise the reader. The books either side of this one, The Seventh Sign and Out Of The Dusk, are both excellent (apart from the weird webbed footprint in The Seventh Sign) and very different – the hunt for a serial killer and a real cold-case investigation. Here, this is a fascinating thing – a whodunit without any obvious suspects that still plays fair and has a satisfying solution.

Actually, there is one obvious suspect, but they are a bit too obvious, particularly when they appear for no specified reason at the finale (which is in a different country) purely to act suspiciously. I was hoping as the book progressed, I was really hoping that they weren’t the guilty party – they weren’t – and while I twigged a lot of it close to the end, I hadn’t appreciated how smart this was. While there is a whiff of similarity with an idea in one of my favourite mystery novels, this was definitely different enough to still catch me out.

All in all, this was a very satisfying read – a great central character, strong support and told with wit and flair, while combining with a puzzle that caught me out. A bit. Although fans of athletic nuns need to be patient as she only appears on page 207…

So, two more Flynn books to go…

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