Freeman Wills Crofts – The Hog’s Back Mystery

Author: Freeman Wills Crofts
Title: The Hog’s Back Mystery
Series: Inspector French #10

Dr James Earle and his wife live in comfortable seclusion near the Hog’s Back, a ridge in the North Downs in the beautiful Surrey countryside. When Dr Earle disappears from his cottage, Inspector French is called in to investigate. At first he suspects a simple domestic intrigue – and begins to uncover a web of romantic entanglements beneath the couple’s peaceful rural life.
The case soon takes a more complex turn. Other people vanish mysteriously, one of Dr Earle’s house guests among them. What is the explanation for the disappearances? If the missing people have been murdered, what can be the motive? This fiendishly complicated puzzle is one that only Inspector French can solve.

This mystery starts like so many at a country house gathering but it’s one that leads only to a disappearance. Which of course means there are more possibilities as to what could have happened. Is it really only a disappearance or is the body just very well hidden? And if the person really disappeared was it voluntarily or not? And anyway why and how? Now, I did go into this with the expectation that this wasn’t so genre-breaking that it would turn out no crime had been committed at all but that still left enough possibilities to have some fun guessing. Admittedly, a seasoned mystery-reader will probably be able to make a good guess as to the motive but that still leaves enough questions about the how (and who exactly) to guess at. I definitely had fun trying to figure those out. However, towards the end, the book drags a bit. Because French has also figured out the why and needs the who and the how and so…he keeps repeating the same information over and over again. X can’t have done it because he has an alibi. Y has no alibi but also no motive…and when he finally has figured it out he only tells his colleagues and not the reader so there’s another chapter where they only talk about what a genius French is for figuring it out without giving away anything. By that point, I was very impatient and slightly annoyed. But not so much that it made me dislike the book. It was still a fun read.

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.