This week it’s back to the Golden Age, with one of the British Library
re-issues of Freeman Wills Croft’s works, with a foreword by Martin Edwards. It has the decorative 1930’s transport poster on the cover, this one of the Surrey Hills, that makes you want to buy the book just for its cover. (In stark opposition to the modern crime fiction cover, with a monochrome photo almost entirely overshadowed by title and author’s name in Very Big Letters.) Dr Earle has disappeared from his own study, still in his carpet-slippers, one afternoon, and his relatives are alarmed. But his is only the first disappearance…
Inspector French carefully and painstakingly checks every alibi, every timing, every distance between houses in the wooded hills around the Hog’s Back. It is an exposition of the scientific method of investigation, with each hypothesis tested, then either discarded or continued, and as such, is perhaps too detailed for the modern reader. We’ve become too used to ellipsis, the sliding-over of exposition, to appreciate just how careful police work has to be. It’s also clear that modern forensics have changed the game completely. I was amused by the fact that Inspector French (a) had to use public transport a lot, and (b) his one high-tech piece of equipment was a very bright lamp that he plugged into the overhead light fitting – something I’ve only ever seen in films.
For some reason, it felt as though this is what happens when Dr Watson does his detecting without Holmes – there is a dogged quality to the investigations. However, it is well written, logical, clearly thought out, and for those who need to know howdunnit in minute detail as well as whodunit, this is a masterclass in 1930s police work.