Wednesday, 3 March 2010

"Inspector French's Greatest Case" by Freeman Wills Crofts

I promised to report when I got my hands on another of these lesser-known Golden Age detective books, and here we are. Well done Camden library service - incidentally, this looks interestingly like a print-on-demand book.

Crofts was born in Dublin in 1879 but did most of his writing fairly late in life. This book was first published in 1925 and it was not until 4 years after this that he resigned from his job as a civil engineer to become a full time writer. He was to prove prolific. I have so far tracked down 35 crime titles, but he also wrote short stories, radio plays - oh, and a book on municipal drains for HMSO.

Unusually, and heavily unfashionably for the period, Crofts's detective is a professional from Scotland Yard, a species usually treated by the toff heroes of contemporary books with anything from condescension to outright ridicule. This conditions the sort of books which he writes, which are outright policiers, dwelling heavily on investigative procedure and evidential detail.

The book is well written and does not feel unduly dated. I guessed the identity of the killer, and had some sort of inkling of how it was all done, but the way in which French slowly but steadily gnaws through the mass of conflicting detail to the truth within is impressive and keeps you gripped.

On the basis of this story, Crofts deserves to be much better known today. He was certainly very highly regarded by other writers during his lifetime (he died in 1957). Raymond Chandler described him as "the soundest builder (of a crime story) of them all".

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