#560: Inspector French’s Greatest Case (1924) by Freeman Wills Crofts

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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.

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#538: The Cask (1920) by Freeman Wills Crofts

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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.

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#493: The Groote Park Murder (1923) by Freeman Wills Crofts

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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.

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#472: The Pit-Prop Syndicate (1922) by Freeman Wills Crofts

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Back in 2015, before I’d ever opened any of Freeman Wills Crofts’ works, Puzzle Doctor reviewed The Pit-Prop Syndicate (1922) at his place and ended by saying “I could go on, but I’ll just keep writing euphemisms for BORING BOOK over and over again. Absolutely, 100%, NOT RECOMMENDED. I’d go so far as Actively Avoid”.  Shortly after reading that I broke my first bread with Crofts and, almost exactly three years later, I’ve read and loved seven Crofts novels and — in a move some might consider hasty — have tracked down all but four of his oeuvre. Still, I picked this one up with the Doc’s warning echoing in the back of my skull.  Gulp.

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