The Loss of the “Jane Vosper”

By Freeman Wills Crofts

First published: UK, Collins, 1936; USA, Dodd, Mead, 1936

My review

A Crofts that all too treacherously arouses the reader’s expectations with its dramatic opening depicting the sinking of a ship at sea, no lives lost. The growing certainty that the ship was sabotaged for the insurance and the disappearance of a private detective bring in French, who is at his most plodding and pedantic; indeed, the early sections of the investigation are among the dullest we have yet read by this author. The plot is equally dull: the question of identity is irrelevant and hence anti-climactic, while the reader should be able to solve the how question halfway through. Bah.

Blurb (UK)

The Loss of the “Jane Vosper” is magnificent drama, told quietly yet impressively, with no deliberate straining after effect.  It must inevitably rank as one of the finest stories that Mr. Freeman Wills Crofts has written, comparable to that modern classic of detection, The Cask.  From the moment that the Jane Vosper, rent by mysterious explosions, plunges to her doom in the Atlantic, the story grips us in a spell and we follow the unravelling of the intricate plot, including, of course, a first-rate murder mystery, until the patient, persevering Inspector French triumphs.  The story is excellent, the characters well drawn, and the problem worthy of Mr. Freeman Wills Crofts’ world-wide reputation.

Blurb (US)

Four mysterious and fatal blasts shook the little freighter, Jane Vosper and drove her to the bottom of the sea.  With her went a cargo insured for a tremendous sum by a company whose suspicions of the cause of the disaster were immediately aroused.  The inquiry by the Board of Trade revealed nothing.  But the mysterious disappearance of one of their investigators brought Scotland Yard into the case and put Chief Inspector French on the trail.

French has two crimes to investigate – murder, and the fear that the Jane Vosper has been deliberately sunk.  His investigation plunges him immediately into a maze of clues, false identities, and fraudulent schemes which will present the reader with one of the most intricate and exciting puzzles he will encounter this season.

Freeman Wills Crofts is at his best in this story.  No other case has revealed more clearly the extraordinary deductive powers of French, nor given the author such an opportunity to present a realistic and thrilling picture of London’s underworld.

Contemporary reviews

Observer (Torquemada, 9th February 1936):

A week’s reading, which includes a new Asey Mayo tale and a Freeman Wills Crofts, heralded, and rightly heralded, as something outstanding even for him, and in which, nevertheless, first honours go to a stranger, means a memorable week’s reading for detective enthusiasts…

The Loss of the Jane Vosper starts with some fine authentic sea work, and then settles down to perhaps the most difficult and heart-breaking trail even French has ever had to follow.  But I would not call it, as does the Crime Club, Mr. Crofts’s masterpiece.  It is undoubtedly his largest conception—the extent of the crime is staggering—but it does not, I think, show his greatest execution.  Perhaps the arrogance (or is it the humility?) of a for once successful solver is responsible for this opinion; for it is a fact that I was a jump ahead of French in the understanding of two important matters.  It was with an inspired leap, as of the angel-feather brain of Father Brown, that I solved the “Arm C” clue as soon as it was set before me; but it was a simple earthy refusal to believe in a monstrous mathematical coincidence that gave me a breathing space while French followed his self-perfumed herring underground.  This meticulous and slow-moving type of problem story can only be criticised by standards previously set up in the works of its greatest exponent, Mr. Crofts himself; never has the engineer’s thoroughness and nicety of adjustment been more clearly seen than in The Loss of the Jane Vosper.  In literature we call it Croftsmanship.

The Times (14th February 1936):


A ship sunk in most mysterious circumstances, though without loss of life, and the intricacies of cargo insurance provide the subject of Mr. Croft’s new story; murder comes as an afterthought.  Here, after the first chapter, is no attempt at psychological subtlety, and little out of the ordinary in detective ingenuity.  Mr. Crofts is always fair and always readable; his Chief Inspector French is always thorough—and always successful.  But that excellent first chapter, describing the most sensational happenings at sea in the most restrained and sensational manner, held a promise, that is not fulfilled, of something more than mere good policemanship.

Spectator (Nicholas Blake, 28th February 1936):

Mr. Crofts’s new book is excellent too [like Margery Allingham’s Flowers for the Judge].  The loss at sea of the “Jane Vosper”, holed by mysterious explosions in the cargo, is so vividly described, indeed, that the sequel seems a little flat: compare the Board of Trade inquiry with Miss Allingham’s Old Bailey scene.  Mr. Crofts’s construction is always first-rate; one clue neatly explodes the next, and the whole plot moves like a rocket-car.  Inspector French is up against the most teasing problem of his career: the first clue is not found till page 183, some time after the private detective of an insurance company is missing, presumed killed, and in consequence the main action seems slow in getting under way.  One avenue is surely left unexplored too long, but otherwise there are no technical flaws.  For the pure-detection fan, this book will be first choice, but I cannot help feeling that the author relies too much on pure detection.

New Statesman & Nation (Ralph Partridge, 29th February 1936):

Mr. Wills Crofts is like the roast beef of old England.  He provides the wholesome diet on which our national character depends and The Loss of the “Jane Vosper” is another cut from that excellent joint.  The Jane Vosper is sunk in the Atlantic by an unaccountable explosion, which costs Inspector French three of the busiest weeks of his painstaking career.  For those whose memory stretches back as far, the general plan is very like that of The Pit Prop Syndicate, which many critics regard as Mr. Wills Crofts’ masterpiece.

Times Literary Supplement (Simon Harcourt Nowell Smith, 29th February 1936):

Mr. Crofts joined the front rank of detective novelists with his first book,
The Cask, in 1920; and, though he has at times been dangerously near losing his position, The Loss of the “Jane Vosper” consolidates it effectively.  This is as good a story as any of the many detective stories published this year.

Its merit is twofold.  It begins with a chapter describing in a quiet, unemotionally dramatic key the sinking by mysterious foul play of a cargo ship—no lives lost; this is a piece of writing that would stand out in any novel, detective or other.  Then Mr. Crofts gets down to the business of unravelling the mystery, undertaken by one of the cargo insurance firms and the police; here Inspector French’s slow, thorough methods of investigation are seen at their best.  There is a murder comparatively late in the book; we almost wish that Mr. Crofts had avoided this, as he might have done without much difficulty, since detective stories without bloodshed are a relief in proportion to their rarity.

Chicago Daily Tribune (Mortimer Quick, 11th January 1936, 120w):

The story is one of those closely reasoned, very detailed expositions of which Mr. Crofts is a master.  In any other hands they would be extremely dull, but he has a way of handling them that keeps your eyes glued to the printed page.  I think this is the best he has done for a long time.

Sat R of Lit (11th January 1936, 40w):

Leisurely, but good.

Books (Will Cuppy, 19th January 1936, 160w):

Just relax, and maybe you can get into the quiet mood required for this slow but sure tale.  We found the multitudinous insurance details just a mite irksome in spots.

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 19th January 1936, 300w):

This is one of the most puzzling of all the cases that French has handled, and Mr. Crofts has told the story in his invariably competent manner.