Black Edged

A review of Black Edged by Brian Flynn – 221209

Once again Brian Flynn changes the format of his stories, this time in what is the twenty-third in his long running Anthony Bathurst series provides us with an inverted murder mystery, one in which the murderer is revealed early on, and the focus of the story is on the sleuth’s attempt to catch them and unravel the mystery. Bathurst is in full Sherlock Holmes mode, using his tremendous powers of deduction, leaving his police colleagues, Andrew McMorran of the Yard and Inspector Rudge of the local force, trailing in his wake and gasping in awe. Originally published in 1939 and rescued from obscurity by Steve Barge and Dean Street Press, it is quite a change from his normal approach and makes for a fun read.

The nine of diamonds is known as the Curse of Scotland. It certainly brought Madelaine ill luck when she drew it in a playing card version of Russian roulette with her husband, Dr Stuart Traquair. Under the rules of the game, Traquair was entitled to shoot her dead. Madelaine tried to pre-empt him by getting her shot in first, but only wounded his hand, allowing Traquair to shoot her through the heart. Clearly, this is rather unusual behaviour for a married couple to be engaging in and the cause of what might be described as this domestic friction – Traquair has discovered that his wife has betrayed him – and the reasons why he has taken such a course of action takes up much of the rest of the book.

However, before we get to that, Traquair is being watched and his house is turned over by a group of men clearly looking for something. Traquair effects his escape, using some of the clothing of an unfortunate traffic victim who was brought to his surgery, and puts himself at the mercy of an old flame, Helen Eversley. Ironically, she is married to Inspector Rudge’s brother-in-law. Traquair also seems to be reporting to a shady character called Armitage, whom he has never met but seems to be some kind of puppet master.

Another body is discovered in Traquair’s house, killed at around the time that Bathurst, McMorran, and Rudge were on the premises, along with Traquair’s rather superior maid, Phoebe Hubbard. Why did she mistake the way to her own room? As the story progresses, the body count increases as Traquair tries to keep a step ahead of both Bathurst and the shady men who seem to be dogging his footsteps.

What starts out as a tragic and bizarre domestic dispute and the culprit’s attempt to evade justice quickly turns into a much darker affair as it progresses, reflecting the tensions and manoeuvres of two countries in the build up to the Second World War. Flynn quite cleverly splits the book into four parts, the first and third written from Traquair’s perspective, while the second and fourth detail Bathurst’s attempts to unravel the mystery and catch the culprit. It allows Flynn to build up the reader’s sympathy for Traquair as he finds himself trapped in a spider’s web, his predicament worsening the more he struggles.

As for the resolution, the reader can easily spot that Traquair is a pawn in a much bigger game and that some of the characters are not quite all that they seem, but the finale, where some of the characters reveal the truth and confirm Bathurst’s theories, although the reader cannot be entirely sure on that, is a little lame for those who like to exercise their grey cells. The precise cause of the kerfuffle, while clearly something Traquair knew, only emerges at the end.

Nevertheless, these are only minor quibbles. It is a riveting read, the format Flynn has chosen suits the story to a tee and it was so enthralling that I could not put it down. Thoroughly recommended.

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