Freeman Wills Crofts

Crofts - photo.jpg
  • Born: 1 June 1879, Dublin
  • Died: 11 April 1957, Worthing, UK

Detective: Inspector French

“When Mr. Freeman Wills Crofts wrote The Cask in 1920 he devised a formula and became thereby the only begetter of a numerous and distinguished detective progeny.  As the other great Freeman stands for precision of scientific statement, so he stands for accuracy of practical method.  He first made police routine fascinating and distilled romance from the pages of Bradshaw.  He is our cunningest fitter of jig-saws, our Time-table King and Master of the Alibi, and no one has ever yet wearied of his skill.” – DOROTHY L. SAYERS

Crofts, a railway engineer, was one of the most important writers of the Golden Age.  His specialty was the unbreakable alibi, painstakingly broken by Inspector French, the first important police detective of the period.  Many of Crofts’ carefully constructed novels involve transport – trains, aeroplanes, and ships – and big business.

Freeman Wills Crofts wrote his first detective novel, The Cask, during convalescence from a long illness in 1916.  He only wrote it to pass the time, and on recovering put it one side without giving it much thought.  Fortunately he took it out a little while later, re-read it, decided it was not so bad as he had imagined, and sent it to Messrs. Collins, who immediately accepted it.

Freeman Wills Crofts was an engineer by profession, and the gift for flawless construction which that work develops is the hallmark of his detective stories.  He has held important posts on the Northern Counties Railway in Ireland and with the L.M.S.—hence the detailed interest in railways and time-tables which is a feature of many of his books.  In 1929 he resigned from engineering to devote his whole time to writing, and now lives at Blackheath, near Guildford.

– author bio panel, Loss of the ‘Jane Vosper’, 1936 Collins

Crofts’ best books include:

  • The Cask (1920)
  • The Groote Park Murder (1923)
  • Inspector French and the Starvel Tragedy (1927)
  • The Sea Mystery (1928)
  • Sir John Magill’s Last Journey (1930)
  • Mystery on Southampton Water (1934)
  • Found Floating (1937)


  1. The Cask (1920) *****
  2. The Ponson Case (1921) **
  3. The Pit-Prop Syndicate (1922) *
  4. The Groote Park Murder (1923) ****
  5. Inspector French’s Greatest Case (1924)
  6. Inspector French and the Cheyne Mystery (1926; aka The Cheyne Mystery) ***
  7. Inspector French and the Starvel Tragedy (1927; aka The Starvel Hollow Tragedy) *****
  8. The Sea Mystery (1928; French) ****
  9. The Box Office Murders (1929; aka The Purple Sickle Murders; French) **
  10. Sir John Magill’s Last Journey (1930; French) ****
  11. Mystery in the Channel (1931; aka Mystery in the English Channel; French) ***
  12. Sudden Death (1932; French) **
  13. Death on the Way (1932; aka Double Death; French) **
  14. The Hog’s Back Mystery (1933; aka The Strange Case of Dr. Earle; French) *
  15. The 12.30 from Croydon (1934; aka Wilful and Premeditated; French;) **
  16. Mystery on Southampton Water (1934; aka Crime on the Solent; French) ***
  17. Crime at Guildford (1936; aka The Crime at Nornes; French) **
  18. The Loss of the “Jane Vosper” (1936; French) *
  19. Man Overboard! (1936; aka Cold-Blooded Murder; French) **
  20. Found Floating (1937; French) ****
  21. The End of Andrew Harrison (1938; aka The Futile Alibi; French)
  22. Antidote to Venom (1938; French) **
  23. Fatal Venture (1939; aka Tragedy in the Hollow; French) ***
  24. Golden Ashes (1940; French) **
  25. James Tarrant, Adventurer (1941; aka Circumstantial Evidence; French) **
  26. The Losing Game (1941; aka A Losing Game; French)
  27. Fear Comes to Chalfont (1942; French)
  28. The Affair at Little Wokeham (1943; aka Double Tragedy; French)
  29. Enemy Unseen (1945; French) *
  30. Death of a Train (1946; French)
  31. Murderers Make Mistakes (1947; short stories)
  32. Silence for the Murderer (1949; French)
  33. French Strikes Oil (1951; aka Dark Journey; French)
  34. Many a Slip (1955; short stories)
  35. The Mystery of the Sleeping Car Express and Other Stories (1956; short stories)
  36. Anything to Declare? (1957; French)
  37. The 9.50 Up Express (2020; short stories)

Recommended reading:

  • Curtis Evans, Masters of the “Humdrum Mystery”: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart and the British Detective Novel, 1920-1961 (2012)

What they say…

‘Of all the great detectives of fiction, the one I should least like to have on my track if I had committed a felony is Chief Inspector French; no detective novelist has created a character more closely akin to the real flesh-and-blood Scotland Yard article.’
(Nicholas Blake)

‘For sheer dexterity of plot, Crofts has no peer…’  (S.S. Van Dine)

‘Inspector French is the most human sleuth to be found in the detective novels of to-day.’  (Punch)

‘A detective novel by Mr. Wills Crofts is always an event to those who know…
Mr. Crofts is among the few muscular writers of detective fiction.  He has never let me down.’  (Harold Nicholson, Daily Express)

‘I always expect Mr. Crofts’ books with reverence, but I await the next with excitement.’ (Charles Williams in the Daily News)

‘The public expects Mr. Crofts to tie new knots of criminal complication.  Before his invention, mine eyes dazzle.’  (Ivor Brown in the Observer)

‘…the extraordinary, accurate subtlety of Mr. Crofts’ work.’  (Robert Lynd in the News Chronicle)

‘Mr. Crofts is the master of the austere, unsensational but—to minds who enjoy stubborn but logical reasoning—enthralling type of puzzle fiction.’  (Michael Sadleir, B.B.C.)

‘Mr. Wills Crofts is one of the best writers in this kind of detective story.’  (J.B. Priestley in the Evening Standard)

‘Mr. Freeman Wills Crofts is an experienced merchant of thrills.’  (Sheila Kaye Smith in the Sunday Express)

‘The true fan puts Crofts on an eminence all his own.’  (Time and Tide)

‘Undeniably the greatest of detective story writers…’  (Outlook)