The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye

The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye – Brian Flynn

Take a pinch of Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia, stir in some of Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone, and add a murder in a dentist’s chair, and let settle before cooking. What you get is this humdinger of a book, as good a piece of detective fiction as I have read in a long while. Perhaps the crime of the 20th century is that the inestimable Brian Flynn has languished in obscurity until recently, when thanks the laudable efforts of The Puzzle Doctor and the wonderful Dean Street Press hi novels have been reissued for a modern audience. If you do not read any other of Flynn’s books, read this.

Published in 1928 it is the third novel in the series involving Flynn’s amateur sleuth, Anthony Bathurst. There are three seemingly unconnected strands running through the book; at the Hunt Ball in Westhampton Sheila Delaney dances with a stranger, Mr X, who departs mysteriously; some months later the Crown Prince of Clorania approaches Bathurst as he is being blackmailed ahead of his forthcoming marriage for an indiscretion; Chief Inspector Bannister’s holiday is interrupted as he is required to investigate the death of a young woman, killed in the consulting room after the dentist found himself locked in the storeroom – yes, identical to Thynne’s plotting four years later. Are these events connected?

Of course they are and Bathurst, who attaches himself to the investigation as the representative of the Crown Prince, and Bannister, who is soon to retire, find themselves on the hunt for a ruthless killer. To add a touch of exotica to the proceedings, there is an Indian on the scene hunting down a fabulous jewel, the Peacock’s Eye, which was looted by some young British officer out in the Raj.

Bannister and Bathurst follow separate courses as they carry out their investigations and much of the book is made up with interviews of suspects and/or witnesses. Each serves the purpose of either throwing up a red herring or adding a discreetly hidden clue to the story. This is another one of the books where the clever amateur seems to make more progress than the plodding professional, but in this case their may be more to it than intellectual gravitas.

The ending of the book serves up as big a surprise as you can imagine and it took me by so much surprise that I decided I would re-read the final few chapters to see if I had missed anything. To be fair to Flynn, I had. There was just one imperceptible hint dropped when Flynn was narrating the travel arrangements of the parties on a boat to Amsterdam. It was easy to miss it but it was vitally important. Having missed it first time round, I had the satisfaction of being floored by something that I had not seen coming but on the second reading, I could appreciate the sheer brilliance and audacity of pulling off the stunt.

The book is beautifully written and flawlessly and ingeniously plotted. It stands head and shoulders amongst anything I have read in the last year and it deserves to be known and appreciated by a much wider audience. A first-class book.

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