Fourfingers (Lynn Brock)

By Lynn Brock

First published: UK, Collins, 1939

Capsule review

An obscurely plotted, almost unreadably dull and humourless mess.

Blurb (UK)

Marton Common, a purple-brown expanse of moorland in the south-west corner of the New Forest, peaceful, swept by sea-winds, became suddenly news.  Carla Waterlow, the beautiful green-eyed authoress of Purple Parade, was found shot through the heart in a car on a lonely stretch of road…and, later, in the bracken nearby, another two bodies were discovered.  “Magnificent air—magnificent scenery,” said Chief Detective-Inspector Granley, as he despatched Venn and Kither to the scene of action.  But mystery deepened on Marton Common when evidence from a gypsy caravan and a country-house had been heard.  When it was found that Carla’s lunatic husband had escaped from his asylum shortly before the murder and when suddenly an eminent M.P. disappeared, Venn and Kither (the tortoise and the hare) got going.  But one thing eluded them—“Fourfingers”, a mysterious stranger who left his prints on a gold cigarette-case in Carla’s car.  Lynn Brock’s latest story is a kaleidoscope of brilliantly-drawn characters against a background of moorland woods and sea air, and furthermore, it’s the same country and the same Yard combination that made his last book, The Silver Sickle Case, such a tremendous success.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Percy Ashley, 7th January 1939):

Mr. Lynn Brock’s new book, Fourfingers, good though it is, is so closely written and so full of incident that it is a little heavy going for the reader in search of intellectual relaxation.  The setting is the New Forest, where a wealthy woman is found shot dead in a motorcar.  The investigation leads across a trail of savage dogs, a man with a missing finger, after whom the book is named, and two more bodies in the bracken.  The detective is that amusing character Sergeant Venn, whom his colleagues nickname “Ut”, short for “Unconsidered Trifle”, partly because of his apparent personal insignificance, partly because he never leaves any trifle unconsidered himself.  He selects as his colleague Detective-Constable Kither, of the new Public School brigade, who is, however, under threat of dismissal because he has allowed an Under-Secretary whom he had been instructed to guard to vanish.  But—convenient coincidence again—some clues to the whereabouts of the missing Minister are uncovered in the course of the joint researches into the New Forest murders.  There is a certain air of casualness in the way in which Scotland Yard treats the disappearance of this “eminent M.P.”, but all ends well in a holocaust of shootings, confessions and escapes.  Whether even with the help of a map and a series of statements by witnesses the reader will be able to work out the story is questionable.  But all the policemen in it are amusing and compensate for the unconvincing peculiarities of nearly all the criminals and other characters in the story.

Observer (Torquemada, 8th January 1939):

Fourfingers, which is the second of Lynn Brock’s Venn and Kither adventures, will be just the thing for those who like their crime tales as full of complication as an ostrich egg is full of meat.  I was myself a little overwhelmed by it, and felt, when I had finished it, that I had been reading three or four detective stories, and had not been quite sure, at moments, with which of these three or four I was engaged.  The investigation of the murder of a female novelist merges into that of the disappearance of an eminent M.P.; suspicions of a jewel robbery melt into suspicions of foreign spy work carried on behind the façade of a Church of Psychotherapy (a word not perfectly understood by the author); and the plot to break off Simon Parrin’s engagement to Lady Fenna Cresard further confounds confusion.  Also there is the Problem of the Lunatic at Large.  The astonishing and admirable thing about Fourfingers is that Sergeant Venn, handicapped as he is by the feeling that his superiors are, for extremely hush-hush reasons, holding out on him, does in the end find a coherent solution to all his problems, and that Lynn Brock does display, to our slightly wearied eyes, the vast complicated jigsaw of a single picture.  There are only two misstatements in the blurb; it looks as if the gentlemen responsible for these art forms had determined to mend their ways in the new year.