Invisible Death (Brian Flynn)

  • By Brian Flynn
  • First published: UK: John Hamilton, 1929; US: Macrae Smith, 1936

Major Whittaker is in fear of his life; years ago, he sent many members of a Russian secret society to their deaths. Now the surviving members want revenge, and have pursued him to his remote mansion. He sends for Anthony Bathurst, but the great detective is too late to save the Major from Invisible Death…

This is a lurid (if not hallucinatory) thriller, full of evil lipless Russians, the Silver Troika (who had a lot to do with the assassination of the Tsar), torture by Persuader, and the Crown Jewels of the Romanovs. Flynn was a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast; the murderous, amorphous gang comes straight from ‘The Five Orange Pips’ (even down to demanding their victim leave the secret papers – already burnt, of course – on the tennis-court at midnight).

The public school spirit and hearty, sporty slang are a bit much at times (the Oxbridge game of shouting ‘Beaver!’ at bearded blokes); and the dialogue is like nothing on earth.

  • My driving’s not too bad, but my short game makes Cherubim and Seraphim very, very lachrymose, I assure you.
  • I’ve got as much chance of being believed as a celluloid cat has of getting out of a petrol-flooded Hades. It’s the Koh-i-noor to a caraway seed against it.
  • Even Homer waggled the old bonce sometimes, you know. As the bloke said the other day in the play, ‘It’s no use crying over spilt milk – there’s enough water in it already.’ I lit a jolly old gasper. Well, of course, I don’t know exactly what happened, but I suppose the fat little feller with his mammy’s eyes and the other gentleman with the dirty face-fungus was nearer to me than I had anticipated. I’ve certainly very good reasons for thinking so. You remember they had given us a bye and had strolled on – er – treading the primrose path of the gladsome old dalliance, don’t you? Anyhow, it’s even money that the dear old lads spotted me light up and it’s a caravan of camels to a cock-eyed caterpillar that they started sleuthing me.
  • I’m properly in the dark. The whole thing seems to me very much like shoving the old brain-box too darned close to dear old Leo’s toosey-pegs.

But it’s good fun. You won’t guess the murderer; the surprise seems to come out of left field, but Flynn plays fair. This is also one of the few detective stories in which this particular method is used – one that passed into television and boardgames. (One of the cases in Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective uses it.) Still, I’d rather hoped for death-dealing South American moths. That’s what Fu Manchu would have used.

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