The Fortescue Candle (Brian Flynn)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Home Secretaries are sometimes voted out; they occasionally resign – but few are murdered. Albert S. Griggs, though, was found shot in his hotel bed, and several people staying at the Lansdowne had good reason to murder him.

Fowles carried a coil of rope with which to hang Griggs, as his own sons had been executed for murdering a servant girl. Wells wanted to avenge his daughter, whom Griggs had seduced. Basil Palliser, an actor, had performed in a play in which a young woman suddenly died, poisoned with prussic acid – a girl whom Griggs had pursued. Then there were two apparently blameless commercial travellers, an elocution teacher, and the hotel manager.

Or was Griggs struck down by the Ku Klux Klan? Who left the five melon seeds where he stayed? Who painted the skull and crossbones on his shoes? And what was the connection between his butler, a hotel porter, and the mysterious Colquhoun of New York?

The Fortescue Candle is a lively, clever story, with a strong whodunnit tug, and an almost Carrian love of bizarre clues. The murderer is well hidden, and the motive is novel and fair; the main clue is a variation (as Flynn acknowledges) on G.K. Chesterton’s “Absence of Mr. Glass”. There is, however, a lot of coincidence in the story, and the solution is a little disappointing; I had hoped for a deeper, premeditated murder scheme encompassing five deaths, rather than a shoal of red herrings. ROT13: Vagevthvat gubhtu gurl ner, gur rneyvre zheqref ner veeryrinag gb gur znva pevzr. Bar punenpgre cbvfbaf gur Fg. Nvqnaf npgerff (na nppvqrag; Tevttf jnf gur vagraqrq ivpgvz), naq zrnaf gb xvyy Tevttf ng gur ubgry. Ohg na “bhgfvqr” punenpgre fubbgf Tevttf va frys-qrsrapr, hacerzrqvgngrqyl.

Contemporary reviews

Daily Mirror (J.S., 17 February 1936): Murder of an M.P.

Anthony Lotherington Bathurst, suave as ever, reappears in The Fortescue Candle, by Brian Flynn. Here are the facts: The Corpse: Albert S. Griggs, Home Secretary, a nasty piece of work. The Place: A bedroom in the Lokingham Hotel. The Clues (among others): A cube of billiard chalk, melon pips and a text-book of elocution. Motives and suspects we leave to you. But keep an eye on the butler; butlers are always suspect in detective stories. Mr. Flynn’s story is not in the first rank of its kind. The problem is not sufficiently elaborated. It is good, light entertainment, though. We were particularly pleased to find the Commissioner of Police actually using that old-world ejaculation – Faugh!

Bradford Observer (31 March 1936): Anthony Bathurst is here engaged in an absorbing investigation, including the murder of a Home Secretary and the poisoning of an actress on the stage during the evening’s performance on a seaside pier. A mystery to keep you guessing.

Liverpool Echo (2 April 1936): You will enjoy The Fortescue Candle, by Brian Flynn, if you can believe in a Home Secretary who behaved as the one in this story does – in a Home Secretary whose whereabouts seem never to be of great concern to his ministerial colleagues, and whose sensational murder in a country hotel seems to be of no great concern to anyone save those sleuths, amateur and professional, who compete with each other in its solution. Ministers of State do not, of course, get murdered every day, however unpleasant (as in this case) their private habits, but I fancy that such an eventuality would cause some stir in the land of the free, and that even the preliminary investigations would not be left so much to Anthony Bathurst and a rural police inspector.

Sheffield Telegraph: A mystery story from the pen of Brian Flynn is always welcome, and when we know that it includes the character of Anthony Bathurst we open the book with knowledge of enjoyment to come.

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