Crime at Guildford (Freeman Wills Crofts)

By Freeman Wills Crofts

First published: UK, Collins, 1935; USA, Dodd, Mead, 1935, as The Crime at Nornes


My review

Quite typical Crofts. The opening is poor enough to make the reader have second thoughts about continuing, for the first chapter is off-puttingly technical, and hence very dull. Interest picks up in the next chapter with the murder of the accountant of a failing business at the chairman’s Guildford house.  Suspicion falls on the chairman, along with five other people. Chief Insp. French, investigating the theft of jewels worth three-quarters of a million from the company safe, co-operates with, and solves the murder case for, the Guildford Superintendent. The detection is typical Crofts: no great deductive feats, but the slow accumulation of alibis, construction and abandonment of theories, to gather proof against the three guilty people (far too many!) suspected from halfway through, whose ingenious plot relies on SPOILER (highlight to read) impersonation and a ciné-camera. The anti-climax takes place in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.


Blurb (UK)

The accountant of a firm of jewellers arrives on a Saturday evening at his managing director’s house near Guildford to attend an unofficial week-end meeting of his directors.  Next morning he is found dead in bed.  On the Monday morning it is learned that the safe of the office of the firm in Kingsway has been opened and half a million pounds’ worth of jewels have been stolen.  Investigation by the local police shows that the accountant has been murdered.  Chief Inspector French meanwhile is inquiring into the sensational theft of the jewels.  He ultimately discovers that the two crimes are connected and by brilliant deduction succeeds in solving the mysterious crime at Guildford.

Blurb (US)

The accountant of a jewelry firm arrives, on a Saturday evening, at his chairman’s house near the little town of Guildford to attend an unofficial week-end meeting of directors.  Next morning he is found dead in bed.  At the office in Kingsway, on the following Monday morning, it is learned that the safe has been opened and over a million dollars’ worth of stones are gone.

Investigation shows that the accountant has been murdered; and two inquiries run through the book, one by Chief-Inspector French into the theft, the second by the Guildford police into the murder.  After an intricate, and at times, thrilling investigation, French’s researches lead him to the truth about the murder and the connection between the two crimes is thus revealed.  An exciting and perilous chase for the criminals ensues, ending in a dramatically surprising climax.

Freeman Wills Crofts is generally considered one of the foremost detective story writers of the day.  No more realistic and thoroughly credible detection is to be found than that of Inspector French’s.  The Crime at Nornes is one of Mr. Crofts’s best stories.  Written in his careful, polished style, the ingenuity of the crime and the brilliance of its solution will make it required reading for all mystery connoisseurs.


Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (16th May 1935):

There is no more honest, solid and satisfactory workman to-day in the detective-story line than Mr. Freeman Wills Croft; and from the reader’s point of view we have always thought his peculiar excellence was not only in the fitting together, so to speak, of his jigsaw puzzles, but in the cutting up of them.  No other writer breaks up his plot so ingeniously, allowing the reader to make a fair guess at the solution but holding back a key-piece here and there, so that doubt persists till the last page, and the pleasure of a good guess is drawn out as long as possible.  This virtue is particularly marked in this story of the murder at Guildford of the accountant of a firm of jewellers and the robbing of their safe at London: not a word more shall be said of the plot, but everybody shall be left to make, half-way through, that satisfactory guess and then be on those delightful tenterhooks as to its correctness.  Chief-Inspector French, as he now is, has changed neither his pleasant manners nor his persevering methods.  Mr. Croft, however, has one defect of his very honest virtues—an increasing flatness and lack of distinction both in style and characterisation.

Observer (Torquemada, 19th May 1935):

I have heard complaints that Inspector French takes longer to run down his clues than any other fictional detective; but, since Mr. Crofts is the only author who gives us intricate crime in fiction as it might really be, and not as the irreflective would like it to be, the criticism is a compliment.  As a matter of fact, the whole detective forces of the world have not more than half-a-dozen times been faced with the subtlety with which Mr. Crofts confronts Chief Inspector French this time.  You may, as I, discover the mechanism, though not the motive, of the murder before French is allowed to be on to it, but I guarantee that the safe-breaking will be beyond you.  A brilliant work, such as Crime at Guildford, becomes too real and makes the generality of readers feel, as it were, criminal.  If Mr. Crofts or Dr. Freeman were after me I would carry release in a false tooth and leave it at that.

New Statesman & Nation (Ralph Partridge, 6th July 1935):

ENTER ROUTINE

When Mr. Wills Crofts sends Inspector French to Guildford to investigate a crime in which all the directors of a City firm seem to be involved everyone can feel thoroughly at home.  It is as if we were taking a seat to watch Surrey v. Kent at the Oval—with the added satisfaction of knowing that French’s slow leg-breaks will bowl out all the opposition and assure the triumph of the home team just before close of play.  Yet it is really hardly fair at this time of day to put up a team of City men to bat against French on the Guildford pitch.  He knows that wicket far too well; and since his astonishing performance in The Pit Prop Syndicate (was it ten years ago?) no City team has been able to face his lobs with equanimity.  Chapter V in Crime at Guildford is specially headed “Enter Routine”.  But there is no chapter in any of Mr. Wills Crofts’ books into which routine does not enter.  Inspector French’s technique is always the mechanical one of painstaking elimination.  That is why we so often meet the City firm, which supplies character after character to be dogged home from the office, questioned, cross-questioned, checked up on—and eliminated.  What remains in the sump after all the facts have been filtered must be the criminal, by process of exclusion.  This technique tends to produce dramatic anti-climax, because as the material is gradually thinned down, so the residual object at the bottom takes its final shape, and the reader, if he cares to make the effort, can always be a jump ahead of the Inspector in fitting the handcuffs.  Mr. Wills Crofts supplements French’s eliminating process in his latest book with a couple of bright ideas for the criminal.  The one not referred to in the preface is extremely baffling at first sight, not only to the Inspector, but also to the reader, and until I reached the masterly recapitulation of the crime I was not sure whether even Mr. Wills Crofts would make a job of it, so terrible were the complications it involved.  Tucking in the loose ends so often leads to some of the earlier knots going adrift.  There is just one untidy point that I boggle at.  Pernickety readers may not quite like pages 116 and 117 when they reach page 313.  But all the same I must congratulate and thank Mr. Crofts for all that he does for us in Crime at Guildford.

Chicago Daily Tribune (Mortimer Quick, 20th July 1935, 130w):

There are times when you’ll be a little ahead of him in the hunt, but that isn’t unpleasant.  To the lover of stories of good, straight crime and detection this book will be welcome reading.

Books (21st July 1935, 600w):

The opus gathers momentum after its leisurely opening, and ends in quite a blaze of sleuthing skill on French’s part.

Sat R of Lit (27th July 1935, 30w):

Clever basic idea, vast amount of ingenious tracking, and satisfactory, if rather long expected, ending.

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 28th July 1935, 210w):

Those who prefer the sensational type of detective story will scarcely find this one to their taste, but those who like a straight story of sound detective work, told in a masterly manner, will welcome this as they have the other Inspector French stories of Freeman Wills Crofts.

Boston Transcript (7th September 1935, 270w):

While Mr. Crofts’s method of allowing the reader to know at all times what is in the mind of the detective is somewhat out of the ordinary, it also tends to cause the story to drag occasionally.

Dr. Watson in the Manchester Evening Chronicle

Crime at Guildford is the sort of thing that spoils one for other books.  Here is greatness.

Daily Telegraph

As calculated to make the purist detection fan hug himself as any other of Mr. Crofts’ masterly exercises in ingenuity.

Daily Herald

A brilliant study in detection.

Bystander

Freeman Wills Crofts at his best.

The Times

One of his best books.

Glasgow Evening News

Freeman Wills Crofts has done it again, and that is saying something…three stars on the list for ‘fans’.