The Spiked Lion

A review of The Spiked Lion by Brian Flynn

By the time those of us who are following Brian Flynn’s series in chronological order have reached The Spiked Lion, the thirteenth in his Anthony Bathurst series, originally published in 1933 and now reissued by Dean Street Press, what we come to expect is the unexpected. Flynn once more changes his style and formula, producing a more conventional detective novel, but one that still surprises. There are elements of sensationalism to be found within its pages, making me wonder whether Flynn saw this as an attempt to integrate some of the racier elements to be found in pulp fiction into the more conservative form of Golden Age detective fiction.

And so we find a band of brothers who are identified and identifiable from a tattoo behind their left knee, a painting with strategically positioned holes, a vendetta, and an inheritance to claim. The deaths are particularly gory, the initial two victims who as well as being poisoned have all the hallmarks of having been attacked by a wild animal which, instead of claws, seems to have been armed with spikes – the spiked lion. Just to add to the fun, there is a third death, which has all the hallmarks of a classic locked room mystery and the dramatic, if somewhat melodramatic, finale has a fatal shooting. The body count is impressive.

Bathurst’s role is also intriguing. When we meet him at the start of the book, he has been invited by Sir Austin Kemble, head of police at Scotland Yard, to consider an unusual case, the death of an eminent cryptographer, Blundell, whose body had been found with serious and unusual injuries and betraying the tell-tale whiff of cyanide, and inside whose coat was a scrap of a note. Bathurst’s role is one akin to Sherlock Holmes, a detective who uses his brain and intuition to make sense of a puzzling set of clues and circumstances. This leads him to suggest that there be a search for another missing person.

This leads them to Wingfield, a distinguished heraldic expert, whose body is found near Sidmouth, bearing similar injuries to and the same whiff of cyanide as were found on Blundell. Bathurst’s role becomes more active at this point, particularly when there is a third death, that of Blundell’s nephew, poisoned in a locked room, in the home of Sir Richard Ingle. Ingle has a further disappointment when he learns that the title and inheritance he had thought was coming his way upon the death of his uncle, Lord Trensham, was being claimed by a son who had been assumed to have died during the war.

From a sedentary start Bathurst transforms into a man of action, putting himself in peril to unmask the culprits and resolve the mystery. In Flynn’s masterly hands he is the embodiment of the perfect all-rounder of a detective, smart enough to think through a problem but confident and brave enough to embrace the physical challenges with gusto.

That there is a conspiracy around the inheritance is clear around the midway mark, but what Flynn leaves cleverly in the air until the end is quite who the conspirators are amongst the suspects and quite what each of their games are. There is a connection between the Blundell, Wingfield, and the claimant to Lord Trensham’s title, but it is more prosaic than we originally are led to believe. Flynn revels in a spot of misdirection and he has ample opportunity with a clever plotline. And the spiked lion turns out to be menacing in more than one way.

There are some loose ends that are not satisfactorily explained, but, frankly, they hardly matter. Flynn has had some fun in producing a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining story that keeps the reader’s interest throughout. For me, that is good enough.

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