The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye (Brian Flynn)

4 stars
Flynn - Peacock's Eye

This may well be the most popular detective fiction release of the week. The Puzzle Doctor has prescribed a course of Brian Flynn, now available from Dean Street Press; half the criminous blogosphere has read it; and the verdict has been unanimously in favour. The ‘eyes’, to to speak, have it.

We have monarchs blackmailed with incriminating documents on the eve of their wedding; a jewel stolen from an Indian temple; and a dead girl in a dentist’s chair.

The middle of the book seems a typical, workmanlike English Realist detective story. There are a few clever twists at the start of the book, as the police establish the victim’s identity, but then (alas! …?) routine apparently takes over. Amateur sleuth (one Bathurst) and his police ally (Chief Inspector Bannister) question hotel staff and bank managers, search bungalows, and trace bank notes, just as in Freeman Wills Crofts or John Rhode.

Persevere, though! Note that ‘seems’ and ‘apparently’. This is cleverer stuff than it appears. All the while, Flynn is planting smacking great clues under our noses, and we’re closer to the murderer than we suspect.

The final stretch gathers speed, as Bathurst asks seemingly meaningless questions – the sort that tell him much, but the obtuse reader little – and hints at dark deeds. The murderer’s identity should surprise most people; I’d read Scott Sutherland’s Blood in Their Ink, so I was forewarned, but not forearmed. (I’m neither a quadruped nor a Hindu god.) I suspected the name whispered in a certain ear. The clueing is fine, subtle stuff (we’re almost in Carr territory), and the false assumption right at the start is delicious.

Thank you, Steve! I’ve just bought the first two in the series.

Contemporary reviews

The Boston Globe (4 October 1930):

Sheila Delany and Daphne Carruthers went to the Hunt Ball at Westhampton. Unfortunately, while there, they met the mysterious “Mr X.” Secret love letters follow. Blackmail letters figure in the plot. A rejected lover becomes angry. One of the girls is murdered. Threatening letters are sent to the Crown Prince of Clorania. Anthony Bathurst and Police-Inspector Bannister are called to solve these mysteries. They are confronted with the problem of discovering how many mysterious strangers were at the Hunt Ball. The author is an Englishman, an accountant by profession, an amateur actor of note, and the author of four mystery novels.

The Cincinnati Observer (25 October 1930):

Here is a new mystery by the author of the Anthony Bathurst stories. At the Hunt Ball at Westhampton two charming girls, Cheila Delaney and Daphne Carruthers, meet a mysterious “Mr. X.”

From this innocent beginning spring secret love affairs, blackmailing letters, bitterness on the part of a rejected suitor and the murder of one of the girls. Which girl was murdered? Why? Who sent the threatening letters to the Crown Prince of Clorania? What startling information did the bank manager bring? What was the Peacock’s Eye? How many mysterious strangers were at the Hunt Ball?

Such are the questions that are presented to Anthony Bathurst and Police Inspector Bannister. But it is Bathurst who, suave and unrufled, as always, stages the scene in which the culprit is at last betrayed.

It will be remembered by detective story “fans” that Anthony Bathurst makes his first appearance in The Case of the Black 22. Someone has called this a “six-cylinder detective yarn,” and it was all of that and then some. In the Billiard Room Mystery Bathurst solves the ghastly murder of Gerry Prescott. Some story!

Mr. Flynn’s third offering is not only well filled with action, but follows in interesting detail the unravelling of a most baffling double murder. The author of these fascinating tales is an Englishman born at Leyton, Essex, some 40 years ago. By profession Mr. Flynn is an accountant in the Government service, as well as a lecturer in elocution and English speech. He is an athlete and is one of the most famous amateur actors in London, and has appeared in over 150 dramatic productions, many of which he has himself produced.

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