- By Brian Flynn
- First published: UK, 1929. Reprinted Dean Street Press.
South African millionaire Julius Maitland’s horse wins the Derby; his wife’s comes second. That night, the police receive a frantic call: “Help! Help! … I’m being murdered!” The police discover Maitland’s body, shot through the head – but he has been dead two days. Who killed him, and perhaps more importantly, is he still the Derby winner?
Flynn’s rather slow getting out of the gate; there’s too much detail about racing, betting, fetlocks and saddles for a non-horsey reader. But he soon picks up speed; Flynn sits well in the saddle, with a light, brisk style. He may not be a Christie thoroughbred, but he’s certainly not a draughthorse either. He is (bless him) a puzzle plot writer: detective Anthony Bathurst lists seven significant points, sits down and thinks, and writes the name of the murderer on a piece of paper (“Well, I’m damned!” says the police commissioner). He skilfully juggles hidden relationships and motives: an abandoned child here, a secret marriage there, and the mystery of the winning ticket holder.
Unfortunately, Flynn stumbles as he nears the finish line; he doesn’t come a total cropper, but it’s not the romp home one could hope for. I fell for the false solution; the deeper solution is unexpected, but unsatisfying. It feels like a contrived coincidence to pin the guilt on a minor character; the crime is unpremeditated / manslaughter (I like my murderers diabolically ingenious – they’re better quarry); and the clues are thin. I’ll accept the cobweb, but we should certainly have been told about the mackintosh sleeve.
This may not be a winner; it may not even place; but it’s an enjoyable day at the races. More like this – and I’ll be in like Flynn.