Sudden Death – Freeman Wills Crofts (1932)

It’s a rare talent to sell a reader a mystery novel, and then lure them fifty pages in with such a blissful story that said reader finds themselves thinking “Oh, I hope nothing bad happens”.  I’m not talking about building up a sense of dread, mind you, but rather creating such an enchanting world that you don’t want to see it shattered.  And yet here I find myself relishing the tale of Anne Day – down on her luck and hopelessly jobless Londoner – suddenly presented with an all too good to be true head of household position at a dream country estate, and I’m a third of the way through the book wishing that an inevitable murder won’t disrupt her life.  Everything is just going so right for Anne.  Sure, the lady of the house suffers from a persecution complex and thinks her husband is trying to kill her, but Anne, with her charms, manages to smooth out even that situation.

Given that author Freeman Wills Crofts is so stereotyped as a writer of dull novels overly reliant on train schedules for even yet blander mysteries, it’s so funny that he wrote this.  But then again, I already knew that Crofts is so unfairly stereotyped, as I’d witnessed the charm and humanity that seeps into stories like The Sea Mystery and Sir John Magill’s Last Journey.  Yes, when series detective Inspector French gets down to work, he toils tirelessly and follows up on every whiff of a thread, but he enjoys life as he does it.

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Sir John Magill’s Last Journey – Freeman Wills Crofts (1930)

Is it possible to pass up a Pocket Book edition of a Freeman Wills Crofts novel?  Aside from the recent (and ongoing) reissues of Crofts catalog by Collins Crime Club, your options up to now have pretty much been paying a criminal amount of money for a two-decade old House of Stratus edition, or scooping up the handful of titles released by Penguin in the 60s.  So yeah, when I stumbled upon a 1941 paperback of Sir John Magill’s Last Journey by Pocket Books, I had to grab it.  This is a pretty early year for Pocket Books, and I was lucky that my copy was in a condition robust enough for a comfortable read without breaking out the tweezers and velvet gloves.

I recall JJ from The Invisible Event commenting that it took him two weeks to make it through this book.  Given that I don’t have much time for reading, it took me full on three.  What a journey it was though.  The introductory map suggested that I was going to get to know the triangle between England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland well.  Seriously, it looks like someone fired a blast of buckshot into the UK.  You’ve got dots littering the western coast of Great Britain, accompanied with a travel guide’s worth of town names I’ve never heard of.

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Antidote to Venom – Freeman Wills Crofts (1938)

I realize that “cozy” is a somewhat derogatory label applied to a particular style of mystery, but I’m going to have to hijack it and repurpose it for Freeman Wills Crofts.  Because really, “cozy” is the most apt term for how I can describe my time with his Inspector French.  There’s really nothing astonishing or outright brilliant in what I’ve read so far, but damned if I didn’t enjoy ever minute.  The typical mystery that I seek out has my mind racing for a solution and that ferocious urge to get to the end.  With Freeman Wills Crofts, it’s like settling back into a comfortably worn well-stuffed leather chair by the fire and feeling at home.

And in that sense, I don’t know that there’s anything outwardly interesting to say about Antidote to Venom, other than I enjoyed the hell out of it.  It’s an inverted mystery, with a bit of a clever take I suppose.  You’re well aware of an accomplice to a murder – the various foibles that led them to be involved in the crime – but even said accomplice isn’t aware of how the murder was actually committed.  As the reader, you know the “who” as well as the motive, but there’s an interesting mystery in the unknown “how”.

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The Sea Mystery – Freeman Wills Crofts (1928)

TheSeaMysteryI’ve been looking forward to the prospect of diving into Freeman Wills Crofts’ deep catalog for a few months now.  He’s been on my radar for a while, but was always slagged as a boring author – a writer of time-table mysteries that are heavy on detailed investigation.  After my experience with Ellery Queen’s early catalog, I wanted to avoid a monotonous trudge at all cost.  And then JJ at The Invisible Event wrote a rave review of The Sea Mystery, and since that time has been posting additional Crofts reviews that make the author sound like the second coming of….well, someone.

Now, JJ’s had just as excruciating a time with the early Ellery Queen novels as I have – in fact, he has yet to make it past The Dutch Shoe Mystery despite trying his hardest.  So if JJ is going to say that a supposedly humdrum author like Freeman Wills Crofts is worth diving into, I’m interested.  Since JJ’s initial post, I’ve read several other reviews of The Sea Mystery, all of which were very positive.

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