Tag Archives: The Triple Bite

The Horn

A review of The Horn by Brian Flynn

Expect the unexpected. If there are writers of so-called Golden Age detective fiction that this warning can be fairly applied to, then Gladys Mitchell and Brian Flynn fit the bill. The Horn, the fifteenth in Flynn’s Anthony Bathurst series, originally published in 1934 and now reissued by Dean Street Press, is a case in point. It starts out as a fairly conventional novel but, somewhat bizarrely, plunges the reader into the murky world of the Marquis de Sade.

As with The Triple Bite, Flynn pays homage to Conan Doyle, using themes from the Hound of the Baskervilles, strange goings on on the moor and the eery sound of a hunting horn, and The Speckled Band, where a soon-to-be bride, in this case Juliet Kenriston, is terrorised, by nocturnal visitations of something furry. At the outset Bathurst plays the role of a consulting amateur detective, who is visited by a worried Julian Skene seeking his assistance in unravelling the mystery as to what is happening to the Kenristons.

Ewart Kenriston, a rather aloof, unworldly academic with a passion for marionettes, has two children, both of whom are shortly to be married. Mark, his son, left the dining room on the eve of his nuptials and was never seen again, presumed dead. The sound of a hunting horn was heard that night. Now Juliet, the daughter, shortly to be married to Skene, is being terrorised and the horn has been heard once more. Suitably intrigued, Bathurst, with the assistance of Chief Inspector MacMorran of the Yard agrees to investigate.

Once Bathurst ensconces himself in the local pub, whose landlord has lost his hunting horn, the campaign of terror against Juliet intensifies. She receives a small parcel containing the buttons of Mark’s suit and the contents of his pockets, confirming fears that he has been murdered. There are suspicious characters lurking around the pub and one of the rooms, in which Bathurst was initially entertained, is now out of bounds. Why is that? The locals enjoy a good bonfire and the name of locally trained winner of the Cambridgeshire horse race helps Bathurst see the winning post.

It does not take a genius to work out that the impending marriages of the Kenriston siblings holds the key to the mystery, as does their father’s will. The plot then plunges into the world of esoterica, when Juliet receives a letter containing three dates in the calendar and a piece of doggerel which mentions a reversed apron. A handkerchief bearing a motif in honour of Donatien is found near a secluded the hut, the importance of both becomes clearer as the plot moves to its dramatic conclusion.

In a world before the internet it is handy to have an expert with an extensive knowledge of genealogy and heraldry at their fingertips and an extensive library in which to conduct your researches. Bathurst realises that Donatien was the first name of the infamous Marquis and it is not long before he discovers that one of the suspects is a distant relation.

The theme of sadism runs through the book. At the outset Bathurst and MacMorran discuss philosophically the aspects of murder, concluding that it is not an expression of sadism. Murder, though, is brutal and while Mark’s murder is more prolonged than most in detective fiction it would not rate high of the Marquis’ Richter scale of sadistic practices. Nevertheless, the theme gives a gothic, somewhat bizarre, twist to a tale that is essentially about greed.

Skene is attacked and held captive in the sinister hut, Juliet is lured there, and the building is set on fire. Has Bathurst made an error it letting events run too far? Flynn cleverly builds up the tension, with a not inconsiderable twist at the end.

It is a clever, witty, atmospheric, horror tale, thoroughly enjoyable, but probably not the easiest entry point for someone wanting to dip their toes into Flynn’s work. The moral of the story is always take a cab to visit a consulting sleuth.

The Padded Door

A review of The Padded Door by Brian Flynn

Once more, in this his eleventh Anthony Bathurst adventure, originally published in 1932 and now reissued by Dean Street Press, Flynn tries something different. Bathurst is a more serious character, taking a more analytical and psychological approach to the case in hand and less confident of his powers and chances of success.

On the face of it he is on a hiding to nothing, called in at the last minute to find some evidence to clear Captain Hilary Frant of murdering a moneylender and blackmailer, Pearson. Frant went there to pay Pearson off in return for the return of some indiscreet letters written by his sister. Frant was the last person to go into the room and the two were overheard arguing. Frant paid £1,000, mainly in £50 notes, but the money was not in the room. Frant’s walking stick was found near the scene and his only defence, hardly convincing to modern eyes, is that he is a gentleman and would never strike another from behind.

To compound Frant’s problems, he is up before a judge with a fearsome reputation and penchant for donning the black cap. To most people’s astonishment, Frant is found not guilty, the jury following the judge’s direction to acquit. A day later, the body of the judge is found stuffed in a large trunk. Are the two cases connected?

Bathurst’s investigations are frustrating, a series of dead ends, contradictory facts and bizarre clues, including those to be found in a magazine profile of the judge, his predilection for blue veined stilton and his dislike of motor vehicles, a hunt for a trail of £50 notes, a cinema fire, light thuds, and a picaresque one-legged dancer. Flynn’s plotting is clever and the puzzle is suitably involved and intriguing and requires a sleight of hand to bring it to a resolution. Flynn is at his most audacious here and he does manage to pull it off, even if his readers are left struggling to catch up as events move at a pace at the end.

Structurally, the book is intriguing. It opens as a first-person narrative in which the reader is informed that the details of this case have recently come out of embargo. Within a few paragraphs the narrative is in the third person and the narrator only reappears at the very end. The book also falls into two very distinct parts, the first, the Pearson murder, can almost be seen as the prelude for the main fare, the mystery of the judge’s murder. There is a distinct shift in pace in the narrative once we enter the second part of the story and it crunches through the gears to reach its dramatic and somewhat bizarre conclusion.

Bathurst’s relationship with the law is a fascinating point of interest in this case. His opposite number is Detective Inspector McMorran, whom we have met before but will become a more regular character as the series progresses, and once Frant has been acquitted the two join forces to solve both murders. What I found troubling, though, was that there were different standards applied to the dispensation of justice. Pearson’s murderer danced the hemp jig, but the misdemeanours of others that led to the second murder – or is it to be viewed as a mercy killing as the victim was terminally ill? – are swept under the carpet.

There are fewer overt Holmesian references in this story than in The Triple Bite, but the sleuth acting as judge and jury with a moral compass that has met with significant turbulence is a pretty big one. Despite my concerns on this point, it is a very clever, convoluted story, enjoyable and well-written book that draws you in. It is also one of Flynn’s most challenging yet.

The Triple Bite

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.