#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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#447: The Criminous Alphabet – A is for…Alibi [Part 2 of 2]

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Last week I talked — at great length — about the alibi in crime and detective fiction as utilised by the criminal working alone.  This week, I’ll hopefully find as much (or, depending on your feelings about last week’s post, maybe less) to say where more than one criminal is involved, and then if there’s time I’ll diverge into crimes where there is no alibi.

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#417: The Ponson Case (1921) by Freeman Wills Crofts

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Freeman Wills Crofts’ second novel The Ponson Case (1921) recently enjoyed a reissue thanks to the superlative efforts of HarperCollins and their revived Detective Club imprint.  Nevertheless, I’m not passing up the opportunity to flaunt my pristine House of Stratus edition, with a cover so fabulous that it was recently reused for Martin Edwards’ genre-sweeping study The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (2017).  Since Crofts himself spoiled his debut The Cask (1920) in The Sea Mystery (1928), I’m skipping that for now but shall otherwise read him chronologically until I run out of books, and hope HarperCollins seize the chance for a full reprint in the meantime…

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