The Case of the Black Twenty-Two – Brian Flynn
My find of the last few months has been Brian Flynn, many of whose books have been reissued for a modern audience by Dean Street Press. This is Flynn’s second Anthony Bathurst novel, originally published in 1934, and it involves a locked room murder. Actually, you get two murders for the price of one because as well as the American millionaire art collector killed in his study (locked from the inside, of course) a poor security guard, Mason, is also murdered, at around the same time in the same way (a blow to the head) but miles away.
An avid collector Stewart has sent a lawyer, Peter Daventry, instructions to buy at auction three artefacts that belonged to Mary Queen of Scots. Daventry attends the viewing but on the night before the sale, the two murders are committed. Inspector Goodall from the Yard is in charge of the investigations but on the recommendation of Daventry’s brother, who saw him in action in The Billiard Room Mystery, the lawyers insist on Bathurst being involved to protect their client’s interests.
In truth, although the plot is well-worked and has the usual mix of semi-convincing alibis, red herrings and twists and turns, the list of suspects is rather limited and the attentive reader has a good sense of whodunit, even if the motivation is not clear, from an early stage. It is only with the introduction of the Black Twenty-Two midway through the book that the disparate pieces start to fit together and the reader can get a sense of why the murders were committed and why the artefacts held such an attraction. I will not spoil the story by commenting any further.
What I found interesting is the way that Flynn chose to portray Bathurst. It is difficult not to think that who he has in mind is Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Bathurst is a fine physical specimen with a high degree of mental acumen. Whereas the professional police are either out of their depth (the local force) or too intense and abrasive to make much headway (Inspector Goodall), Bathurst has the charm and social grace to ease himself into the company and ask questions without causing undue alarm. He even persuades the Sergeant to reveal some ultimately quite important information that he has not passed on to his own Inspector. Guilty of withholding vital information to make the reveal more dramatic at the end, Bathurst is free to paddle his own canoe. His methods, like Holmes’, are more deductive than investigative and his Watson is Daventry. Still, there is enough of a character in Bathurst that he doesn’t just turn into an ersatz Holmes.
A feature of the book that sits rather oddly with the modern reader is the treatment of Stewart’s ward in the tale. Her behaviour and her reluctance to be honest in her statements makes her a prime suspect, but because of her youth, sex and beauty she is assumed to be innocent and given a fairly easy ride by the detectives. The Sergeant, fighting a losing battle to act professionally in front of her, “became acutely aware of his constitutional duty, but sternly suppressed it”. Ah, innocent days!
I thoroughly enjoyed the tale and look forward to my next encounter with the formidable Anthony Bathurst.