The Groote Park Murder (Freeman Wills Crofts)

By Freeman Wills Crofts

First published: UK, Collins, 1923


My review

Excellent early Crofts.  The first part is set in South Africa, but isn’t Boer-ing; and the second two years later in Scotland.  Detection throughout is excellent—lots of detail, particularly of suspects’ movements.  (A map of Scotland is a good idea, particularly for those of us who read our Gladys Mitchell with an atlas to hand—good fun for armchair travellers!)  Crofts’s detective technique: instead of spreading suspicion among half a dozen people, the police follow leads and investigate each suspect in turn.  There are, in fact, only two suspects, and by the penultimate chapter, Inspector Ross knows who the murderer is, but has to break down a (rather disappointing) unbreakable alibi.  The solution anticipates The Sea Mystery. Everything fits beautifully logically together, and although the plot does hark back to Victorian melodrama (wicked half-brothers and wrongfully accused heroes—named Crawley (!)—who finally win the hand of the loyal heroine), this only adds to the charm.  Excellent stuff.

  • Murderer lays false trail incriminating Crawley.
  • After police arrest Crawley, his friends (fiancée and lawyer) detect to prove innocence—The Cask; Coles’ Brooklyn Murders.
  • Scottish setting: Sayers’s Five Red Herrings (Ballachulish); Mitchell’s My Father Sleeps (Oban, Rannoch Moor) and Noonday and Night (Fort William).

BLURB

There is always a large and eager public waiting for “a new Crofts”.  When The Cask was published, it was clear beyond dispute that in Mr. Crofts had appeared a new master of detective fiction.  It is four years since it was published, but it is always being mentioned, and has inspired many imitators.  It is selling as vigorously as ever.

The Ponson Case also proved an amazing popular success.

The Groote Park Murder is as fine a book as The Cask, and there can be no higher praise.  Here again are a delightfully ingenious plot, masterly handling of a mass of absolutely relevant detail, and an overwhelmingly surprise “curtain”.  From the moment the body of “Albert Smith” is found in the tunnel at Middelberg, the police of South Africa, and subsequently of Scotland, find themselves faced with a crime of extreme ingenuity and complexity, the work of a super-criminal who, as nearly as possible, successfully evades justice.  The solution of the problem once again reveals the master detective writer.


Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (31st January 1924):

The writer of detective stories has always to contend against two great difficulties.  The corpse upon which the story is founded must have been more or less reasonably produced and, without unduly straining the probabilities, the reader and the police must be kept in darkness as long as possible as to the identity of the murderer.  In this story Mr. Crofts sets his murder in South Africa and keeps everyone (except those who prefer to read the last chapter first so as to avoid mental anxiety) guessing until the very end, and that in spite of the fact that he duplicates the crime.  Mr. Crofts provides plenty of opportunity for the reader to watch the detective mind in action and to admire the astuteness of the criminal in deceiving and misleading the police, but the more tender-hearted readers will probably resent the harshness with which the author treats his hero.

Nation and Ath (E.B.C. Jones, 23rd February 1924, 150w):

It would be over-exacting to demand style in this class of book, but might we not be spared details every time the detective offers cordial thanks and tactful compliments?  Mr. Crofts’s murder mysteries would then gain in lightness and speed what they lost in length.

NY World (19th April 1925, 150w):

The dénouement is very neatly done.

Lit R (A.C. Bierce, 9th May 1925, 380w):

Here is a book that the most intensive seeker after baffling mysteries will find a thrill in.  And until the author finally unravels the snarl and presents the solution any reader who goes on the time-honoured theory that two and two make four is going to have his confidence badly shaken.  The Groote Park Murder is the most exciting detective story this writer has read since The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Int Bk R (L. Moore, June 1925, 80w):

A story which shifts from South Africa to Scotland, and, allowing the reader to be possest of all the evidence in the case, contrives to puzzle him thoroughly.

NY Tribune (G.W. Wynne, 14th June 1925, 250w):

It is so much pleasanter for a reader when a story is told in this fashion, since, for once, he is not expected to indulge in amazing flights of imagination and incredible deductions, which invariably prove to be false.  The story will hold the attention until the last page has been reached.

Boston Transcript (15th July 1925, 200w):

It will be interesting to see what percentage of regular devotees of the detective story field respond to this work.  The Groote Park Murder cannot in any way be said to be the usual easy reading to which these fiction hungry souls are accustomed.

Glasgow Citizen

If there is a better writer of detective stories alive, I would like to know his name.