Well, it’s that day of the year again – it’s Brian Flynn Day! The day when every sensible-minded book lover creeps downstairs at 6 am to stare at the front door, to wait for the delivery person to try and cram books 21 to 30, Cold Evil to The Grim Maiden, through the letterbox. Or to switch on their e-reader to see ten delights downloading into their library as they make plans to put their lives on hold for the next few days as they devour the adventures of Anthony Lotherington Bathurst as he sets on the trail of murderers a-plenty…
The books all have introductions written by me – and I apologise that this time, it’s just a standard introduction for all the books. Entirely my fault, this has been one hell of a year, with a combination of you-know-what and trying to set a whole system of examinations due to the government passing the buck onto us teachers, but let’s face it, it’s not my waffle that you buy these for – but just like for the previous two sets of releases, I thought I’d set down my personal encounters with these titles. You can read about the first ten here, and the second set here.
This third set dates from 1938 to 1944, and as book collectors know, books published during wartime tend to be harder to find than those published without. And thanks to a general reluctance to reprint Brian’s work, this was the set that I had most trouble finding copies of.
There were a couple of paperback reprints, in fact, of titles from this era, and it is one of those – Reverse The Charges – that was, for a very long time, the sole title from the set in my collection. It was one of my earliest reads of Brian’s works, the tale of an apparent maniac, murdering people in a town in a variety of bizarre ways. I’ll admit, until I re-read it recently, I’d forgotten it was another example of a serial killer story from Brian, although it is also a proper mystery too.
So, that was back in 2017 when I read that one. And since then, nothing. I knew we had copies of the books for printing, as the estate owns almost all of them, and a fellow crime fiction enthusiast helped out with a couple of others. But of course, if I was going to write about them, then I’d better read them too. There was always the chance that Brian decided that after writing twenty fantastic mystery novels – well, okay, fifteen fantastic, four good and one that’s a bit of a clunker, you decide which the last one is – that he decided to doze off and write a bunch of nonsense. Luckily, a while ago, I realised that a) as an alumnus of Oxford University I had access to the Bodleian Library’s collection and b) I only live an hour’s drive away. So, pre-COVID, I was slowly working my way through the missing titles from my collection.
For no particular reason, I didn’t read them in order, flitting into the later books from the canon, but the first from this set that I read at the library was book 21, Cold Evil, a dark mystery that plays with the idea of a supernatural killer – are there any other books with a chimera as the possible murderer – but the killer is indeed flesh and blood. We also meet Bathurst’s cousin and finally find out how old he is!
Following that, I was in for a surprise with Such Bright Disguises, book 27, as it’s a long wait until our hero shows up in the tale. Brian didn’t write many inverted mysteries and this was the first that I’d come across. Arguably, it’s only the first section that is inverted, as the final section – about the last quarter of the book – involves additional deaths and Bathurst finally showing up to sort things out. It’s an impressive change of style, and a clear sign that Brian was willing to experiment with the format of his writing.
The same visit involved The Ebony Stag, a very traditional Bathurst adventure – with, oddly, him actually leading a police investigation due to Scotland Yard being shorthanded. And then COVID showed up…
I was genuinely concerned about how I was going to do the introductions when Dean Street Press sent me the most wonderful present – pdfs of all ten books! It was like all of my Christmases coming at once.
It’s a varied collection of styles, even more so than the first twenty books. Apart from what I’ve mentioned, there’s one out-and-out thriller, a battle of wits between a killer on the run and Bathurst, and a boxing mystery where at one point the killer is (somewhat jokingly) theorised to be a pteranodon and gets stranger from there. One book has some guest appearances that fans of Golden Age mysteries will be gobsmacked by, one has a Nazi conspiracy to be thwarted and one of my favourites has an example of my least favourite Golden Age idea finally made to work really well! But I’ll leave you to work out which is which… you’ll just have to read them, won’t you…
The books in question are:
- Cold Evil
- The Ebony Stag
- Black Edged
- The Case Of The Faithful Heart
- The Case Of The Painted Ladies
- They Never Came Back
- Such Bright Disguises
- Glittering Prizes
- Reverse The Charges
- The Grim Maiden
It so good that books so rare are finally available again. In four years of collecting, I’ve got about 3/5 of Brian’s output (not counting the recent reprints) but it was only the other month when I got my hands on a second title from this batch – a paperback reprint of Such Bright Disguises. Now we’re over halfway, with thirty Anthony Bathurst mysteries out there. Keep your fingers crossed and hopefully this time next year, I’ll be talking to you about the next ten…