Invisible Death – Brian Flynn
This is the sixth in Flynn’s excellent Anthony Bathurst series, originally published in 1929 in the UK – the US edition did not appear until 1936 – and reissued for a modern readership to discover by the indefatigable team at Dean Street Press. It also had an alternative title, The Silver Troika. Both he alternative title and the cover illustration on the reissue could be construed as giant red herrings.
What an enjoyable romp it is, more of a thriller than a standard murder mystery. By this time Flynn had changed publisher and Bathurst seems to have undergone a character transformation, becoming more of a man of action with a certain gung-ho attitude than an intellectual sleuth and is once more ably aided and abetted by his lawyer friend, Peter Daventry, who is even more of a brawler and a crack shot to boot. They also seem to have swallowed and inwardly digested Bertie Wooster’s lexicon of upper-class slang, their dialogue peppered with turns of phrase that would not have embarrassed P G Wodehouse.
There is also a very considerable nod of the head to Conan Doyle. The Silver Troika, a band of evil Russian terrorists, heavily implicated in the murder of the Tsar and on the trail of some incriminating documents and jewellery, seem to have come straight out of The Five Orange Pips. They even insist that their victim leaves the papers in a case on the tennis court at midnight. And if you didn’t get the reference, they are already burnt, of course.
Bathurst is summoned down to Swallowcliffe Hall by Constance Whittaker to help protect her husband, the Major, from an unnamed threat. It turns out that Major Whittaker was operating in revolutionary Russia and was instrumental in eliminating a number of the Red terrorists. The Silver Troika are after his blood.
Despite Bathurst’s best efforts, he fails in his principal objective because the Major suddenly drops dead, poisoned, despite no one being near him at the time. Had the Silver Troika effected their deadly revenge, but how did they do it? Or what about the eccentric American entomologist, who keeps appearing on the scene or a deadly butterfly that fluttered around the room? And why are the Troika so beastly to Whittaker’s butler? Has he an even darker past than his association with and unwavering loyalty to the Major would seem to suggest?
With considerably more violence than you would expect from a normally genteel murder mystery of this era, the tale takes some alarming and unforeseen twists. Although Flynn plays fair with his readers if only by allusion and hints, it is almost impossible to guess who the murderer was. The method by which the murder was committed is highly ingenious and is worth reading the book just for that. Justice of a sort prevails at the end by which Bathurst has more than amply demonstrated his talents and ability to solve a knotty problem, even if he left Constance a widow in the process.
It is great fun and Flynn’s style is so engaging that I found I raced through it in almost record time. That is the hallmark of a good murder mystery cum thriller.