#946: Law and Order – Ranking the First Fifteen Inspector French Novels (1924-36) by Freeman Wills Crofts

With the sixteenth to twenty-fourth novels by Freeman Wills Crofts to feature his series detective Chief Inspector Joseph French due to be republished between now and January 2023 (well, #18, Antidote to Venom (1938), is already available from the British Library) it occurred to me that people might be looking for advice about the first fifteen — all, incredibly, in print.

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#945: Man Overboard!, a.k.a. Cold-Blooded Murder (1936) by Freeman Wills Crofts

Man Overboard

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Today sees the republication of Found Floating (1937), the twentieth of Freeman Wills Crofts’ novels and the sixteenth to feature (Chief) Inspector Joseph French, the first of eight reprints due between now and January 2023. And so let us turn our attention to Man Overboard, a.k.a. Cold-Blooded Murder (1936) — the fifteenth French novel and final entry in the last set of Crofts reprints — in which a man gets on a ferry in Belfast and is no longer aboard when it arrives in Liverpool…so what happened to him between those two points? Alas, in answering that question Crofts has written what is for me his first dud in 19 books.

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#903: The Loss of the Jane Vosper (1936) by Freeman Wills Crofts

Loss of the Jane Vosper

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Hector Macdonald’s excellent thriller The Storm Prophet (2007) was the first book to ever make me consider the terror of being trapped aboard a sinking boat in the open sea.  15 years later, the opening chapters of The Loss of the Jane Vosper (1936) by Freeman Wills Crofts, in which the eponymous freighter is shaken by mysterious explosions and must be abandoned, brought those anxieties back, despite the calm competence of her crew and some surprisingly elegiac imagery (“[the lifeboats] turned with one consent and began rowing with her, determined to see the end…Not a man but was heartily thankful to be out of her, and yet she was their home.”).

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#867: Crime at Guildford, a.k.a. The Crime at Nornes (1935) by Freeman Wills Crofts

Crime at Guildford

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Five members of the board of Nornes Limited, a London-based jewellers, meet one Saturday evening at the home of the company’s managing director to discuss the dwindling health of the business away from the prying eyes of their competitors.  On Sunday morning, one of the men is discovered dead in bed, and the doctor who is summoned to examine the body proves unwilling to offer a death certificate.  Little do Nornes, Ltd. know it, but their problems are only just beginning, as Monday morning reveals the execution of a theft that will sink their business if the loot is not recovered.  Enter DCI Joseph French.

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In GAD We Trust – Episode 23: What’s in a Watson? [w’ Caroline Crampton]

The companion of the fictional detective — the “stupid friend” as Ronald Knox styled them — is something I have spent far too long thinking about, mainly because the protoype is always taken to be Sherlock Holmes’ chronicler Dr. John H. Watson. Joining me this week to discuss why that might not always be a good comparison to draw is Caroline Crampton of the superb Shedunnit podcast.

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In GAD We Trust – Episode 21: The Diversity of Approaches to Detective Fiction [w’ Martin Edwards]

The detective fiction genre is built around the essential structure of a crime, an investigation of that crime, and the revelation of the guilty party who committed the crime, and good heavens didn’t the Golden Age map out a lot of different ways to walk that path. And there are few people better placed to discuss this than President of the Detection Club and recent recipient of the CWA Diamond Dagger Martin Edwards, who celebrates three decades as a published author this year.

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#790: On the Morals of Golden Age Detective Fiction, via Crime and Detection [ss] (1926) ed. E.M. Wrong

That title is doing a lot of work, isn’t it? Fair warning: this goes on a bit.

At the online Bodies from the Library conference last weekend, I gave a talk inspired in part by E.M. Wrong’s introduction to the 1926 anthology Crime and Detection. And, in addition to coining the term “Wellington of detection” that inspired the thinking I laid out last weekend, there is plenty of material in that piece of prose to get the cogs turning.

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#755: Mystery on Southampton Water, a.k.a. Crime on the Solent (1934) by Freeman Wills Crofts

Mystery on Southampton Water

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For evidence of the restless enthusiasm Freeman Wills Crofts brought to the writing of detective fiction, look no further than the two books he published in 1934. The first — The 12.30 from Croydon, a.k.a. Wilful and Premeditated — was his first inverted mystery, a fairly standard affair in which we are wise to the killer’s reasons, actions, and thoughts from the beginning and which Inspector Joseph French then unpicks quickly in the closing chapters. No doubt Crofts was interested in this new form, but simply repeating a formula which, if we’re honest, gets a little bit long-winded in the closing stages did not appeal. And so changes were wrought for a second stab.

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