Freeman Wills Crofts is an author who has not always fared particularly well with modern reviewers of classic crime fiction, a curious situation given his undoubted popularity and the critical acclaim he accrued during his career. More recently however that state of affairs seems to be improving somewhat, aided by the reprinting of many of his books, both by Harper Collins and in the British Library Crime Classics series. This, the 13th mystery to feature his series sleuth Inspector Joseph French, was his first book on returning to Collins Crime Club after a brief stint with Hodder and Stoughton. The last book Crofts book published by Collins before this had been Death On The Way in 1932, after which he had switched to Hodder for 3 mysteries before returning to Collins. This return was not to be permanent however, as after 3 more books he was back with Hodder for Found Floating (1937), remaining with them for the rest of his writing career.
Reading this mystery, one can begin to comprehend some of the possible reasons why Crofts has sometimes been the subject of less than complimentary reviews, though the influence of writers like Julian Symons can not be disregarded. As in previous books Crofts offers a complex plot of murder and robbery, in this case half a million pounds worth of jewels, painstakingly investigated by the methodical Chief Inspector French, with the aid of the resources of Scotland Yard. In his previous 2 books (12.30 From Croydon and Mystery On Southampton Water) Crofts had experimented quite successfully with the inverted detective story but here he reverts to a story closer to his earlier and even pre-French mysteries.
The book starts rather clunkily, with a slightly stodgy prose style that doesn’t improve significantly over the next 300 pages. Things get a little more interesting when French is called in to investigate a large robbery at Nornes, a firm of jobbing jewellers in London, and when he discovers that one of the directors of the company has died over the same weekend during a conference at Guildford he embarks on a complex investigation. Was his death due to natural causes or murder? When the doctor suspects foul play and refuses to issue a certificate the seasoned mystery reader will soon find that question settled, even when the local police investigation stalls.
As usual, French makes progress through the maze of alibis and clues by doggedly collating statements and untiring legwork rather than by any inspired ratiocination. At first all his suspects appear to have airtight alibis, but an unexpected twist provokes French to doggedly reexamine everything and soon he starts to see light on both crimes. As is often the case with Crofts, the story culminates in a chase across Northern Europe before the perpetrators of both crimes are apprehended.
Unfortunately, as in more than one of his previous books Crofts relies on a conspiracy of several persons to explain the mechanism of the crime, one important aspect of which will be discernible to the seasoned mystery reader at least fifty pages before it occurs to French. While Crofts is as always very strong on technical and topographical subjects, his other favoured subject – that of the man of commerce or industry threatened with ruin due to the depression – is less successful than in other books, since the reader feels absolutely no sympathy with the perpetrators here. Altogether, solid but unspectacular, this is not one of Crofts strongest efforts from this period.
Inspector French #13
Preceded by Mystery On Southampton Water (US Crime On The Solent)
Succeeded by The Loss Of The Jane Vosper
This book was republished in paperback and ebook editions by Harper Collins in 2020 and is still available
First Edition Details
Originally published by Collins Crime Club 1935
Orange Cloth Boards pp 315 + 4pp adverts, 8vo
Title and Author stamped in black on spine. ‘The Crime Club’ stamped in black at bottom.
Title and Author stamped in black on front.
Dustwrapper priced at 7/6 net on spine.
Originally published as The Crime At Nornes by Dodd, Mead & co.
Green cloth boards
Title and Author stamped in black on spine. Dodd, Mead & Company stamped on bottom
Title and Author stamped in black on front.
Dustwrapper priced at $2 on front flap.
R E Faust
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