The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye – Brian Flynn (1928)

Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library.  That’s it.  That book is the perfect analogue to The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye.  Don’t worry, there’s no spoiler in that statement; the stories have completely different solutions.  But boy, there are some similarities.  Two novels set at seaside hotels.  Two mysteries where the police struggle to identify a female murder victim.  Two cases in which questions of identity play a major role.

Brian Flynn had a 14 year drop on dame Agatha, so I’ll give credit where due.  The similarity in my mind though doesn’t really come down to the story.  It’s the quality.  The Body in the Library is a perfectly serviceable – if somewhat forgettable – 1940s Christie novel.  That’s not a bad thing; most any other author would be lucky to match a lesser Christie from one of her prime decades.  Brian Flynn had such luck.

The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye opens with a bit of intrigue surrounding the blackmail of the prince of a fictional country (I’m not the biggest fan of fictional countries…), before settling down on a case of murder.  A woman is found poisoned in a dentist’s office, said dentist having been locked in a closet by an unseen assailant while the crime was carried out.  The victim is devoid of any identifying articles, so the police have to rely on some luck and intuition to find a toe hold to move the case forward.  The case does indeed move forward, and that’s Brian Flynn’s strength as a writer in this work.  Each chapter features some stirring plot development, allowing the investigators to inch forward, but more importantly giving the reader a reason to hold on to the book.  The plot itself isn’t particularly interesting, but the promising twists every dozen pages kept me wanting to read more.

That perseverance paid off with a fine twist in the end.  Not a unique twist – you’ve seen it a number of times – but it came out of the blue and Flynn dropped it with such aplomb that I was thoroughly shocked.  Not shocked in the sense that sticks with you or is worth writing home about, but I felt that I had a grip on the directions things were destined to go, and this particular development never even entered into my mind.

What worries me about The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye is that it undoubtably gets trotted out whenever someone mentions Brian Flynn’s best novels.  It’s a fine read, but it’s not great.  That’s where the comparison to The Body in the Library comes back into play.  If that had been Agatha Christie’s highlight then few people today would know her name.  And The Body in the Library may actually have a leg up on The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye when it comes to the solution.  Yes, Flynn surprised me much more with his solution, but it was mere surprise; “ha, you didn’t see that coming.”  Christie on the other hand made me feel fooled.  I should have anticipated her solution, but I didn’t.  Flynn unveils more of a gotcha, and as series detective Anthony Bathurst explains all, I found myself a bit unconvinced.  There was an incongruity between the story that I had just read and what supposedly went on behind the scenes.  With a successful misdirection, the details of the story snap to align with the newly revealed information.  Here I felt like I was more being convinced that it all could have worked out a particular way.

Still, The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye is solid enough to have me curious about more Brian Flynn.  In an unfortunate turn, I’ve learned that the only other title that I own by him – The Five Red Fingers – is universally viewed as his worst, so I guess I’ll have to go elsewhere for my second read.  Any recommendations are welcomed.

I do want to give some credit to Dean Street Press for the fantastic covers in this Brian Flynn series.  Each cover is a modernized variant of the original cover art, and this gives them a striking vintage appearance, while also carrying a common theme across the series.  Very few publishers these days are providing even D-grade cover art for mystery reissues, and these Flynn books are about as good as they get.

8 thoughts on “The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye – Brian Flynn (1928)”

  1. Although I read this as an old hardback, not the reprint, I found The Sharp Quillet one of the best of the Flynn’s I’ve read, although The Spiked Lion also is right up there. Only The Creeping Jenny Mystery—usually touted as one of the best—left me cold. But much of that is the thoroughly irritating “flapper Valley girls” and Bathurst being missing for most of it.


    1. Don’t worry, this wasn’t based on your list. I bought The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye soon after it was released, based on all of the rave reviews at the time.

      However… I do think your list triggered me to finally get around reading my next Christopher Bush book (and buying one more), and we’ll talk about my thoughts on that in a week..


  2. I love Flynn’s own unique and varied brand of detective fiction, but therefore difficult to recommend as each book is very different from the one preceding it. Flynn can go from whodunits to courtroom drama to Doylean thrillers, etc. I really liked Invisible Death (very pulpy), Murder en Route, The Padded Door, The Horn, Fear and Trembling, The Ebony Stag and Glittering Prizes.


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