A review of The Edge of Terror by Brian Flynn
Brian Flynn has certainly been one of my discoveries, thanks to Dean Street Press who have rescued his works from obscurity by reissuing them for modern fans of Golden Age detective fiction to discover. The Edge of Terror is the twelfth in his Anthony Bathurst series, originally published in 1932, and once again Flynn has changed his formula and introduced new facets to the character of his amateur sleuth, ALB. The shock to those who have studiously followed the series in chronological order is to discover that Bathurst, who to date had given the impression of being a confirmed bachelor, as the euphemism had it, was engaged to be married, to Rachel Marquis, who turns up in this story. Their relationship seems frosty, she did ditch him after all and married another, but they collaborate in the end to good effect.
Flynn has chosen to have the story narrated by one of the characters, Doctor Michael Bannerman. His narrative style is a little unsettling at first, straight out of the Bertie Wooster book of public school boy slang, and then becomes a little wearying, until the action hots up and his Woosterisms seem to fade into the background. As before, one drawback of having the tale narrated is that it either relies upon the narrator being always present to witness all of the action, unlikely if they are a Watson to someone’s Holmes, or are reliant upon a third party relating the key points of what they missed. Fortunately, Bannerman is hit on the head and for the final two chapters, Bathurst takes over the narrative to wrap things up.
A curious aspect of Bannerman’s narrative style is his approach to medical issues. He is absolutely precise in his usage of medical terms and his description of illness and cause of death, as befits a medical man, but this precision is at odds with his generally vacuous descriptive style. Bannerman also hero worships Bathurst and there is evidence of a growing bromance, if only one-sided, as the story develops.
The story starts with an anonymous letter, received by Inspector Goodaker, in which the writer announces that by 31st August the writer will rid what he describes as “your most atrocious town” of “one of the most prominent citizens”. The letter suggests that matters will not end there. Goodaker takes Bannerman into his confidence and on August 31st the police receive another letter announcing the killer’s arrival. The following morning the body of Walter Fredericks, a prominent businessman who owns two cinemas in the town, is found with his throat cut.
Would you believe it, but Anthony Bathurst is in the area on holiday and the Chief Constable immediately ropes him in to help with investigations. One of Fredericks’ sons is also murdered and Bathurst is convinced that the deaths are part of a vendetta. His theory is somewhat shaken when a third murder is committed, that of a confectionary salesgirl at one of Fredericks’ cinemas, but it is this crime which enables Bathurst to get to grips with the puzzle.
Outside of the realms of detective fiction, communities faced with a serial killer – the fascinating introduction tells us that the term was not in use at the time – would response by looking after their own safety by organising vigilante groups. Unusually for detective fiction this is what the townsfolk do, organising a rota of vigilantes and erecting powerful floodlights. Their actions are to no avail and provoke another murder.
Flynn revels in false identities and dark secrets from the past, both elements featuring heavily in this tale. While the identity of the murderer can just about be worked, the motivations for the killing spree are hard to determine and require Bathurst’s detailed explanation at the end for it all to make sense.
It is not a perfect book by any means, but it is thoroughly enjoyable. Flynn is not afraid to mix his styles and approaches and can be relied upon to produce a splendid piece of entertainment. Oh, and there is another superb pub name to add to the collection – the Cat and Coffee-Pot.