As his seventh published novel, Inspector French and the Starvel Hollow Tragedy (1927) shows Freeman Wills Crofts again subtly altering his approach to take us through the minutiae of crime and detection, introducing a structural change which addresses the issue of “whodunnit” that these early GAD trendsetters sometimes struggled with. While you may well be aware of the guilty party from about chapter 4, rest assured that Inspector Joseph French eventually cottons onto his target at around the halfway stage, and the final third of the book is then devoted to tracing the criminal. And a lot of fun is to be had along the way.
August is my summer holiday, and I’m contributing to the slow death of the planet by taking a few breaks here and there, so might not be as hot in the comments as usual. But the nature of what we mean when we say “GAD” has been on my mind for a while, so here goes nothing.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. After a debut that laid the cornerstone of a new genre and three succeeding works exploring the principles of that genre from varying perspectives, now begins Freeman Wills Crofts’ 30-novel (plus however-many short stories) relationship with Inspector Joseph French. At this stage it’s difficult to judge how French differs from his antecedents Burnley, Lafarge, Tanner, Willis, Vandam, and Ross, but I guess we’ll never know whether French was ever initially conceived as more than a one-book man like those others. The title certainly suggests so, but history shows otherwise.
If I asked you to name the debut novel of a hugely influential detective fiction author that was originally written in 1916, published four years later, featured a character called Hastings, and had its ending rewritten at the publisher’s request to remove a courtroom/trial sequence…you’d no doubt be surprised just how much The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) by Agatha Christie and The Cask (1920) by Freeman Wills Crofts had in common. The intervening century has been kinder to Christie than to Crofts in both literary reputation and availability, and their divergence from these surface-level similarities is no doubt a part of that.
A mere nine books into the 37-strong output of Freeman Wills Crofts (soon to be 38 thanks to the excellent work of Tony Medawar and Crippen & Landru), I’m going to make a bold assertion: Crofts, I suggest, went out of his way to never write the same type of book twice. Oh, I know, you’ve heard they’re all just a boring man in a boring office poring over boring train timetables and talking boringly about boring tides on the way to solving a boring murder (to be honest, the only truly boring thing about Crofts is being told how boring he’s supposed to be)…but first read nine books by the man before telling me I’m wrong.