The Padded Door

A review of The Padded Door by Brian Flynn

Once more, in this his eleventh Anthony Bathurst adventure, originally published in 1932 and now reissued by Dean Street Press, Flynn tries something different. Bathurst is a more serious character, taking a more analytical and psychological approach to the case in hand and less confident of his powers and chances of success.

On the face of it he is on a hiding to nothing, called in at the last minute to find some evidence to clear Captain Hilary Frant of murdering a moneylender and blackmailer, Pearson. Frant went there to pay Pearson off in return for the return of some indiscreet letters written by his sister. Frant was the last person to go into the room and the two were overheard arguing. Frant paid £1,000, mainly in £50 notes, but the money was not in the room. Frant’s walking stick was found near the scene and his only defence, hardly convincing to modern eyes, is that he is a gentleman and would never strike another from behind.

To compound Frant’s problems, he is up before a judge with a fearsome reputation and penchant for donning the black cap. To most people’s astonishment, Frant is found not guilty, the jury following the judge’s direction to acquit. A day later, the body of the judge is found stuffed in a large trunk. Are the two cases connected?

Bathurst’s investigations are frustrating, a series of dead ends, contradictory facts and bizarre clues, including those to be found in a magazine profile of the judge, his predilection for blue veined stilton and his dislike of motor vehicles, a hunt for a trail of £50 notes, a cinema fire, light thuds, and a picaresque one-legged dancer. Flynn’s plotting is clever and the puzzle is suitably involved and intriguing and requires a sleight of hand to bring it to a resolution. Flynn is at his most audacious here and he does manage to pull it off, even if his readers are left struggling to catch up as events move at a pace at the end.

Structurally, the book is intriguing. It opens as a first-person narrative in which the reader is informed that the details of this case have recently come out of embargo. Within a few paragraphs the narrative is in the third person and the narrator only reappears at the very end. The book also falls into two very distinct parts, the first, the Pearson murder, can almost be seen as the prelude for the main fare, the mystery of the judge’s murder. There is a distinct shift in pace in the narrative once we enter the second part of the story and it crunches through the gears to reach its dramatic and somewhat bizarre conclusion.

Bathurst’s relationship with the law is a fascinating point of interest in this case. His opposite number is Detective Inspector McMorran, whom we have met before but will become a more regular character as the series progresses, and once Frant has been acquitted the two join forces to solve both murders. What I found troubling, though, was that there were different standards applied to the dispensation of justice. Pearson’s murderer danced the hemp jig, but the misdemeanours of others that led to the second murder – or is it to be viewed as a mercy killing as the victim was terminally ill? – are swept under the carpet.

There are fewer overt Holmesian references in this story than in The Triple Bite, but the sleuth acting as judge and jury with a moral compass that has met with significant turbulence is a pretty big one. Despite my concerns on this point, it is a very clever, convoluted story, enjoyable and well-written book that draws you in. It is also one of Flynn’s most challenging yet.

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