A review of The Triple Bite by Brian Flynn
Most writers of Golden Age detective fiction owed a large debt of gratitude to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his iconic creation Sherlock Holmes, not least because he had established the genre as being one capable of rising above the penny dreadful and displaying some literary merit. They take delight in dropping a reference to the canon of Holmes’ stories or use devices such as a Watson-like companion to faithfully record the derring-do and inductive brilliance of their sleuth. Conan Doyle died on July 7, 1930, and Brian Flynn, ever one to experiment with form and surprise his readers, devised this, the tenth outing of Anthony Bathurst, published in 1931 and reissued by Dean Street Press, as a tribute to detective fiction’s premier writer.
During his narrative Watson had a habit of alluding to other cases that Holmes was involved in, but which were never fleshed into full stories. The inspiration for Flynn’s novel comes from a throw away reference to such a case in The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez to be found in The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Flynn develops his homage by including some of the standard fare that you might expect in an adventure of Holmes – a criminal mastermind, a coded message, an unusual form of dispatching victims which is almost undetectable.
In this story Bathurst seems to have mainlined a syringe full of Holmesian mannerisms and characteristics. Flynn never seems too concerned about presenting Bathurst as a consistent character throughout the series. Rather Bathurst is a figure whom he can adapt to fit the needs of the plot and setting of the story.
Inevitably, Flynn chooses to have the story narrated by one of the characters in the story, Cecilia Cameron. This is the third time in the first ten of his Bathurst series that he has chosen this form of narrative and, structurally, it does pose some difficulties as Cecilia is not always as central to the action as, arguably, Watson was and is reliant upon information gathered either after the fact or from others. It is not a fatal flaw and Flynn’s engaging style soon grips the reader in an intriguing and sometimes macabre tale. There is a strong seam of humour, not least in the portrayal of the larger-than-life criminal, Scarlet Lampard with his shock of red hair.
Colonel Cameron is persuaded to buy Dallow Corner as his retirement home, but as soon as he takes residence events take a sinister turn. A piece of doggerel containing a cryptogram has been provided by the wonderfully named “Salmon” Trout to the two men who have helped him, one of whom is Cameron’s nephew, suggesting the presence of treasure in the environs.
The good guys, those associated with Cameron, crack their grey cells to work out where it might be hidden. The bad guys, a gang of violent desperadoes, are also anxious to get their hands on it and are averse to using violence or the threat of violence to secure their prize. The Cameron’s poor housekeeper regularly finds herself tied up in the cupboard. The Colonel dies in mysterious circumstances in what looks to be a case of natural causes, he has a dodgy ticker (natch). This is the cue for Cecilia to call in the services of Anthony Bathurst who perceptively spots the vestiges of three faint marks on the Colonel’s jaw.
The family find themselves under siege, there is another murder and several red herrings. To Flynn’s credit he produces an enthralling story which mixes elements of a thriller with a classic murder mystery and deploys a plot where it is difficult to spot who the culprit is, never mind how the murders were committed.
Flynn is another writer who rarely lets his reader down.