Freeman Wills Crofts: The 12:30 from Croydon

Title: The 12:30 from Croydon
Author: Freeman Wills Crofts
Series:  Inspector French #11

We begin with a body. Andrew Crowther, a wealthy retired manufacturer, is found dead in his seat on the 12.30 flight from Croydon to Paris. Rather less orthodox is the ensuing flashback in which we live with the killer at every stage, from the first thoughts of murder to the strains and stresses of living with its execution. Seen from the criminal’s perspective, a mild-mannered Inspector by the name of French is simply another character who needs to be dealt with. This is an unconventional yet gripping story of intrigue, betrayal, obsession, justification and self-delusion. And will the killer get away with it?

Rating: not my cup of airplane-coffee (but perhaps yours?)

When I read (or watch) a mystery I mainly enjoy watching the detective figure out who did it. It doesn’t even have to be a ‘fair’ mystery where I can guess along with them. I don’t need the chance to play along to enjoy watching the investigator find clues.

Of course, if you pick up a modern crime novel (or watch a police procedural), chances are you will also spend a lot of time with the personal problems of the detective(s). I don’t mind that too much, provided the character is likeable. And since I rarely read/watch things if I dislike the characters, that’s usually not an issue.

Then there are of course crime stories that don’t focus on the detective but on somebody else that is connected with the murder. The murderer as in this case or – as I have been seeing now and then in procedurals – people who were close to the victim. And I won’t deny that I found some of those really great. You only have to go to another Crime Library Classic – Portrait of a Murderer – to hear me singing the praises of a book that is mostly told from the POV of the killer, and I was also impressed by some procedural episodes that spent more time on the victim’s family than average.

Well…but if you do that you have to be really good to distract me from the fact that I’m not getting what I expected and wanted. If I’m reading an ‘ordinary’ crime novel that’s just average – with an inspector who is not that memorable, clues that are a bit too obscure and a motive that’s a bit far-fetched – I’ll still enjoy myself if I get to see the puzzle-solving I came for. If you tell the whole story from the POV of the killer and I don’t get to see any puzzle-solving, he needs to be really entertaining to make up for that fact. And Charles is just a very average person who’s sort of clever (his murder method admittedly was). He murders a not particularly likeable man because he needs money. For once because his factory is in a bad state and if he doesn’t invest in new machinery he’ll have to close it down and all the workers will lose their jobs but also because he wants money to impress (and marry) a woman. He feels some remorse when it turns out that his plot also led to suspicion falling on his cousin but not a huge amount. All very average. And average isn’t enough to make me forget that this wasn’t what I wanted. (Incidentally, in the final chapter the inspector explains what made him suspicious and how he went on to prove his suspicions and I kept thinking about how much I would have enjoyed the same story told as a regular mystery).

Now if your expectations on the mystery genre are different from mine, this book might be more up your alley. Charles isn’t so loathsome that I disliked spending time in his head. And his plan was clever – I simply would have rather seen Inspector French unravel it.

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