A review of Murder En Route by Brian Flynn
I will make no bones about it, I am a Brian Flynn. What intrigues and impresses me about him is that he is not content to follow a tried and tested formula but is willing to experiment and change things around. In Murder En Route, first published in 1930 and now reissued for a modern readership to discover by Dean Street Press, his amateur sleuth, Anthony Bathurst, has had an almost complete character transplant. The rather gung-ho, Peter Wimseyish sleuth we have encountered in his previous seven outings has gone to be replaced by a more altogether serious incarnation, with distinct Holmesian overtones. It is not an unbelievable transformation and works well but it also shows that Flynn is prepared to do more than just tinker around the edges.
The story itself is unusual, starting out as an al fresco locked room murder mystery, before developing into a rather complicated tale which interlinks two separate mysteries with a dash of who has been done in as well as the standard whodunit before turning into a full-blooded thriller for its denouement. It is fairly clued but there are some massive red herrings and, although upon reflection I should have spotted what was going on, the reveal at the end caught me slightly by surprise.
If you are going to experiment, you may as well go the whole hog. The structure of the book is distinctly odd. It starts off as a traditional third person narrative before, at the fourth chapter, becoming the first party narrative of the Reverend Parry-Probyn as told through a manuscript he had written a la Watson of the affair which showcased the brilliance of Bathurst as a sleuth. To provide the backstory necessary to understand the second element of the case and the importance of Eileen Trevor, it reverts back to the third party. Even when the Reverend is narrating there are whole chunks of action where he was not present and so is reliant upon others, principally his son, Michael, to supply the details. I am not convinced that Flynn pulled this off, the disparate elements, instead of blending together seamlessly, rather jar on the reader. It did not spoil my enjoyment of the tale.
The story starts off with a body of a passenger on the open top upside deck of a bus in foul weather. The passenger made a point of always sitting on the top deck in foul weather of fair. He was the only passenger to venture onto the top deck, as the distraught conductor testifies, and seemed perfectly well when he boarded. He had been strangled. How did it happen? And who was he? Why was there a distinctive fishy smell to his clothing? Why did he have a racing card with the letters S, T, D, M on it? Was the conductor complicit?
Meanwhile, an American farmer, along with his faithful retainer, arrives in Liverpool to prove his credentials and lay claim to a fortune. He disappears mysteriously. Bathurst, whose close connection with Sir Austin Kemble, head of Scotland Yard, gives him authority to assist in the cae, sees a link between the two events and proceeds to uncover a plot involving identity theft, fish shops, garrulous locals who are willing to tell all if their glass is refilled often enough, skulduggery, devious lawyers and windowsills overlooking narrow streets as well as the inevitable damsel in distress. For what is a complicated plot, the resolution is surprisingly simple, and I had worked out how the murder was carried out. Perhaps I have read too many of these books.
Overall, I found it a great read and the natural pace of the story carried me along at an impressive rate of knots. Brian Flynn is a vastly underrated writer and, if you have not read any of his books, this is as good a place to start as any.
And there is another wonderful Flynn pub, The Four Flamingoes, to add to the collection, although it sounds more like a ritzy wine bar.