Bathurst 33 – The Sharp Quillet (1947) by Brian Flynn – a re-read

The Bar Point-to-Point meeting at Quiddington St Philip – an annual horse race for lawyers – is one of the highlights of the calendar year. Well, if you live in Quiddington St Philip or are a lawyer who likes horse racing, I guess. Anyway, this year, Justice Nicholas Flagon is going for his third victory in a row, and there are just two obstacles in his way. His favourite horse is injured, so he has to ride a new horse. And he received a death-threat that morning as well…

Anthony Bathurst and Chief Detective-Inspector Andrew MacMorran are called to the village to investigate Flagon’s murder, but when they arrive, they find that Justice Theodore Madrigal has also been murdered using the same method – a poisoned dart – at Flagon’s funeral. As they struggle to find a single motives for both murders, it becomes clear that the murderer is not finished yet…

Yes, it’s a re-read of a Brian Flynn mystery, but why not? This is one of the five titles that Dean Street Press re-released last month, along with The Case Of Elymas The Sorceror, Conspiracy At Angel, Exit Sir John and The Swinging Death, and I thought I’d take a look back at this one. It’s one of the earliest Flynn reads for me, and was the title that convinced Brian’s family that his work should be reprinted. I still haven’t worked out the reason that this one (and Exit Sir John) were, at one point, easily the most available original titles, almost always with dustjackets, but that’s the reason this was one of my firsts.

Reading this, it’s clear why this helped stoke the fires of my obsession with dear old Brian. It’s an immensely readable book, with some dexterous change of focus as we go along. It’s like the camera, so to speak, is sitting on a character’s shoulder and then, every now and then, it hops onto a difference character.

If I’m being 100% honest, it’s not desperately well-clued – Bathurst’s solution is more an exercise in elimination rather than deduction, but it does make sense. How he cottons on to the motive is somewhat beyond me, but the reader is treated to the opening sequence that helps set the scene. In a similar manner to Murder En Route, the final section of the book is devoted to the capture of the (still-unnamed) murderer as it becomes evident that the killer is nowhere near as gullible as Bathurst hoped they would be. And, it’s worth mentioning, capable of a superhuman feat to commit the first murder…

One thing for the fans to note, this features the second (I think) appearance of Helen Repton, Bathurst’s not-quite love interest. He’s flirting with her quite a bit once she shows up and she clearly must go on the list of women who fall head-over-heels in love with old Anthony. No real spoilers, but anyone who hangs on for a will-they-or-won’t-they resolution will be disappointed – it never comes to anything even twenty books later.

As I said, this was immensely readable – certainly the first book in a good while that I had trouble putting down, despite having read it before. So why not give this, or any others of the 66% of the Anthony Bathurst books that are now available once again thanks to the lovely folks at Dean Street Press?


  1. I do like them, though not quite to your level. Have to say halfway through the first long conversation Bathurst had with the murderer, I couldn’t see how it could be anyone else, but then I kept swithering, so good job on the red herrings. My only quibble is that I wasn’t convinced by it as a story, it felt a bit more like a lot of linked lists of “here’s a suspect, here’s why, and here’s how to clear them” once Bathurst got involved. I’d say well readable but not his best.

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  2. Yes, I also was able to find this in hardback with dust jacket and not in sterling shape so I let it sit for quite a time, afraid it would crumble to dust. I finally read it, fairly recently, and enjoyed it a great deal, one of my favorite Flynns so far although I’m quite fond of the other I have in hardback, the not-quite-complete The Spiked Lion. I think I read more for characters than for perfection of clued plot so that makes my reactions different to other GA readers (and why The Creeping Jenny drove me nuts—all that ‘flapper’ jibbering).


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