Tread Softly by Brian Flynn

“This man Merivale admits that he killed his wife. Makes no bones about it whatever. Confesses that he strangled her. But he says that he was fast asleep at the time that he was doing it. That all he did, he did in a dream.”

Chief Inspector MacMorran is up against the most extraordinary case of his career – a self-confessed killer who, as the case comes to trial, may well be found innocent given the circumstances. MacMorran is convinced that Merivale is a cold-blooded murderer, but, worried that he may be exonerated in court, he recruits investigator Anthony Lotherington Bathurst to find evidence to convict him.

Bathurst isn’t convinced, however. If Merivale killed his wife deliberately, why pick such a risky story which is just as likely to convict him as exonerate him? If Merrivale is telling the truth, is there a possibility that a third party was involved? And if so – how?

First off, a small apology. I know that this sort of review doesn’t appeal to everyone. Tread Softly, another #1937book for Crimes Of The Century, is somewhat obscure – OK, very, very obscure, which is why for a while I had to make my own cover for it. Isn’t it pretty?

This is the only review of it currently on the internet (a fact that I’m rather proud of) and while there are a few copies on Abebooks, they’re not cheap. As far as I can see, it was published by John Long in the UK in 1937 and in the US in 1938 and then was never reprinted. So it’s pretty unlikely that you, dear reader, will never read this book. Let’s face it, even Martin Edwards was unaware of Brian Flynn until recently. And he knows everything!

But:

  • The blog has always been first and foremost a catalogue of my reading. Yes, it’s a tad more waffly than most lists, but I’ve always picked my reading based on what I want to read.
  • I’m hopeful that bringing obscure books to the public attention might inspire the reprint publishers to consider looking into the catalogue to reprint them for the masses. There’s a decent amount of output from Flynn and so far for me, there have been two excellent reads – The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye and Reverse The Charges – and one solid one – The Case Of The Black Twenty-Two.

Since discovering Flynn, I still can find very little about him. None of his work has been reprinted in recent years and some of it seems to have never been reprinted at all. He seems to have been mostly writing for the library market, but that’s not uncommon for writers at the time – but it does presumably entail a smaller print run which, of course, means fewer copies out there.

But as I said, so far, for me at least, Flynn is 2.5 out of 3 – more consistent than, say, John Bude. In fact (and whisper this quietly) due to the lack of complete stinkers, more consistent than a certain Mr Rhode. So a part of me is convinced that, for whatever reason, I’ve just been lucky and have stumbled across the good ones. Buying this one on a whim for Crimes of the Century, due in part to a stubbornness to read a book that nobody on the sign-up page mentioned, surely this one would be a duffer – after all, the book has almost zero web-presence.

The story is presented in two halfs. Part One is the events leading up to the trial and the verdict. Flynn takes his time to develop the characters, including the chief suspect, and there’s a rather wonderful sequence as we meet the jury and see what’s going on in their heads – some of which merely betrays the fact that one or two aren’t paying the slightest bit of attention! And then after the verdict – which is either murder or innocent, as I’m informed that manslaughter wouldn’t apply in this case – we see events develop as Bathurst, convinced that there is more to the tale than he knows, determines to find out the truth.

The approach is an intriguing one, as the reader is never clear about Merivale’s guilt or innocence. I’m not a fan of the inverted mystery (although admittedly I haven’t read many) but the uncertainty of what had happened meant that either: a) Merivale did it and I was still happy about the book or b) he didn’t do it and the plot was very clever. You take your pick, I’m not spoiling anything.

But what made this book for me was the rationale for the crimes (yes, there’s another one later in the book). As the picture begins to clear, the motive definitely eluded me and yet Flynn performs what I took to be a minor miracle and at the end of the day, the plot made sense. And a beautifully simple sense that really appealed to me. And it’s one of the few times that I’ve agreed with a certain action that Golden Age detectives had a bad habit of doing…

As I said, this is a #1937book so what does it say about 1937? Well, not a vast amount. Merivale is involved in a film, so the short turnaround between the cameras stopping rolling and the film appearing in a cinema is a little surprising. Oh, and the existence of the Illyria Super-Cinema in Leicester Square? Was that a real place? It doesn’t seem have any mentions on the web. Oh, and the supporting police officer requires a tankard for a beer that he is offered because only “pansies” drink from glasses. Oh dear.

So, overall? Well, this is now officially one of my most treasured books in my collection. Not just for its rarity, not just for the lovely sticker on the cover – ” A Good Book Is The Best Of Friends”, courtesy of its former home, the Craig-Y-Don library. But something about this tale just clicked for me and the ending was near perfect. Stunningly simple, but clever enough for the reader to go back and re-read certain sections to see what you were really reading it for. It’s feels churlish to Highly Recommend this one as I don’t expect anyone to trip over an affordable copy but if someone asks me nicely at the Bodies From The Library conference this year, then I’ll lend it to them. If ever there was an author needing a second chance, then it’s Brian Flynn – three and a half great books out of four so far. Dean St Press, if you’re looking for a new author, and have a way of contacting the estate of an author that people seem to know nothing about, then he’s certainly my recommendation. This is a bit of a cracker.

Oh, the title’s nonsense though… At least John “literal” Rhode‘s titles were plot-related.

 

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22 comments

  1. “I know that this sort of review doesn’t appeal to everyone. ”
    I am one of them. There is already another blogger doing such reviews ! 🙂

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  2. This review is precisely what appeals to me– the obscure, the forgotten, the hidden gem of a novel. Following your advice, I hunted down a copy of The Mystery of The Peacock’s Eye– and am enjoying it immensely. Please keep up your off-the-beaten-paths post. To my mind, it is an homage to writers who struggled, decades ago, to construct a tantalizing mystery–and are now unduly neglected. Your review helps give them their rightful due, often posthumously. But what better honor?… when you think about it.

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    • So glad you’re enjoying Peacock as there’s always a little voice inside me speculating that it’s just me reading too much into it. Many thanks again to my sister-in-law who bought it for me on a whim,,,

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  3. I love reading about obscure writers so keep them coming! And if I ever see a ludicrously priced Flynn novel I know to buy it.
    Not sure if you have already seen these but here are some contemporary reviews of Flynn’s work by The Saturday Review who have a criminal record table where they look at three books each time:
    http://www.unz.org/Pub/SaturdayRev-1934may12-00692a02
    http://www.unz.org/Pub/SaturdayRev-1938jul23-00018a02
    http://www.unz.org/Pub/SaturdayRev-1938apr02-00034

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  4. These sound great, and I for one really appreciate the detours into more obscure titles (though my near-total disinterest in modern crime writing plays a large part in that, undeniably…). Hey, you may even have some part in bring ing Flynn back, and then how much would everyone have benefitted? Keep up the great work,

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  5. Please carry on filling your blog with reviews of ANY books that interest you – it’s your blog after all. Although I don’t plan to actively seek out these GA books, it’s good to think that if I happen to see one in a second hand book shop anywhere, that I would have sufficient awareness to pick a decent one from your reviews. There are many blogs that just review the latest big reads as they roll off the presses, so it’s refreshing to have a more ‘personalised’ blog to read. (Incidentally, on the basis of your earlier review, I’m currently half way through The Dry by Jane Harper – enjoying it very much so far.)

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    • Always nice to hear when a recommendation seems to have clicked, especially, oddly enough, a non-GA book. Glad to be able to help out where I can. And I’ve no intention of changing my reading plan, as the “Next On The Blog” picture should indicate…

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  6. I like the focus on “off the beaten path” authors too. Not quite as far off, but as a Michael Innes fan who can’t seem to find anyone else who likes him, it’s nice to read someone who champions the obscure and underappreciated!

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  7. Please read and review whatever you like. Like many others, who have commented above, I too like reading about obscure, forgotten writers (though sometimes it is very painful when you desperately want to read them and their books are simply not available:)

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