Tag Archives: Inspector Baddeley

The Creeping Jenny Mystery

A review of The Creeping Jenny Mystery by Brian Flynn

After a bit of a dip in the last outing, the Creeping Jenny Mystery, originally published in 1930 and now reissued by Dean Street Press, sees Brian Flynn back on form. The seventh in his Anthony Bathurst series, the eponymous Creeping Jenny is not the invasive plant that I spend too much time trying to eradicate from my garden but a jewel thief who visits stately homes, relieving its occupants of just one item of jewellery and leaving a calling card-cum-receipt. You just don’t get that class of thief these days. The title of the American edition published two years later, The Crime at the Crossways, is rather more prosaic but at least fixes the action to the home of Henry Mordaunt KC.  

Bathurst himself barely features in the story and much of the burden of detection falls on Peter Daventry, his friend, and his old sparring partner, Inspector Baddeley whom we met in The Billiard Room Mystery. Daventry has toned his act down several notches since Invisible Death but is still a bit of a public school ninny who has an amazing ability to miss the obvious and an uncanny knack of failing to recognise familiar faces. We have a couple of outbreaks of dialogue straight out of the Bertie Wooster lexicon when he writes to Bathurst but the absence of Bathurst generally seems to have a calming effect on him, which is no bad thing.

Another character, Russell Streatfeild, also does some amateur sleuthing and he seems to have much more success at unearthing vital clues than anyone else. Apart from being a confidant of Mordaunt and a lawyer for a firm that has long since been dissolved, no one knows anything about him. I will not spoil the fun of the story but I have always made it a rule in life never to take anyone who misspells field at face value. Baddeley, of course as the police often do, jumps to the wrong conclusions and fails to make much headway in solving the crime.

There are two crimes to solve, which may or may not be linked, the theft of the Lorrimer sapphire and the murder of Olive Mordaunt, who was found down a well, stabbed with a dagger, a theatre prop brought to the house by a guest to the house party to celebrate the engagement of Captain Lorrimer to Molly Mordaunt. The theft of the jewel followed the script of previous Creeping Jenny heists with one significant exception. Mordaunt had prior warning that the theft would be attempted.

Prior to the discovery of theft two of then guests very publicly struck a wager of £100 as to whether Creeping Jenny would strike. What was the significance of that? Lorrimer had taken the precaution of secreting a fake sapphire, but that too was stolen. And was it significant that four of the guests had been at each of the house parties where Creeping Jenny had previously struck? And why was Olive Mordaunt lured outside to her death? What did she know that led to her demise? Who was the mysterious person in a yellow dress?

Baddeley, of course, arrests the wrong person but between them Daventry and Streatfeild with some epistolary words of advice from Bathurst work through the clues and piece the puzzle together. It is an amusing romp of a story with a bit of cross-dressing thrown in and a denouement that comes slightly left field in a restaurant in London involving a bit of impersonation and a fist in the face for Baddeley. Still, he made his arrest.

It was a thoroughly entertaining novel, which even Daventry’s occasional lurch into Woosterism did not spoil. If you like your crime novels to have a light touch and entertain, this one is for you.

The Billiard-Room Mystery

The Billiard-Room Mystery – Brian Flynn

Another reissue courtesy of those enterprising people at Dean Street Press and another writer I had not previously encountered. Published originally in 1927, it caused some controversy at the time because the ending is reminiscent of a better-known classic which had appeared a little while earlier. In Flynn’s defence, though, I think it handles it better and he had finished it sometime before, having a great deal of difficulty in finding a publisher. The two almost certainly came up with the same idea independently.

This is the first book to feature Flynn’s amateur sleuth, Anthony Bathurst – the series ran to fifty although hardly anyone these days would know – and he is portrayed as a man with the polish and breeding of a Wimsey and the intellectual acumen of a Holmes, possessing “uncanny gifts for deduction, inference and intuition. These powers allied to a masterly memory for detail and to an unusual athleticism of the body, separated him from the majority”. There’s nothing like building up your hero. Bathurst even comes with his own Watson, at least for this tale, in the form of the stolid and well-connected Bill Cunningham.

The book seems to be a fairly conventional murder mystery of its time, set in a country mansion, Considine Manor, where a disparate group of individuals assemble for Sir Charles Considine’s annual cricket week house party. The mix of conviviality and sport is interrupted when a maid finds a guest dead on the billiard table with a dagger in the back of his neck and, just for good measure, he appears to have been strangled with one of his own shoelaces. The deceased has committed a fatal dress faux-pas by wearing brown shoes with a dinner jacket, not the done thing, and it prompts suspicions that he was roused from his slumbers by a disturbance which he was investigating when he met his end.

Flynn also presents us with another puzzle. Lady Considine’s pearls are also missing. Are the two crimes linked? The jewellery theft is dealt with fairly cursorily and satisfactorily for the Considines but the murder causes Bathurst and the police team led by Inspector Baddeley more problems.

Kelly has fielded a large list of suspects and the book takes a leisurely course exploring their potential motives and alibis, whittling down the field. We see how the investigation is progressing through the eyes of Cunningham. Kelly clearly has fun with motives and is not averse to throwing in the odd red herring to throw us all off the scent.        

Towards the end of the book, though, the tone, pace and voice of the narrative takes a sudden and unexpected twist and all is revealed. Kelly handles the change of gear well and for this reader, at least, it was not quite what I had expected, although, when I thought about it over my evening cocoa aka a gin and tonic, I realised he had rather skilfully sown the seeds for those who were none too blind to see.

I like books that suddenly knock you for six with a violent change of direction, one that transformed what seemed to be a rather safe, conventional, almost hackneyed entertainment into something which was really rather good.