The Billiard Room Mystery by Brian Flynn

Considine Manor in Sussex, and Sir Charles Considine is holding his annual Cricket Week, held every year after “Varsity comes down” – which I presume means Oxford and or Cambridge’s terms ending. Our narrator, Bill Cunningham, relates how he and Anthony Bathurst became involved in a murder investigation – hey, it’s a country house party between the wars, what do you expect was going to happen?

Anyway, soon there’s a dead body in the billiard room (as you may have surmised from the title) and to add to the troubles, Lady Considine’s pearls have been pinched. Can Inspector Baddeley catch the criminal, or will it take supersleuth and all-round amazing person Anthony Lotherington Bathurst to save the day?

I switched this one onto my Twenty Books Of Summer list, as Tragedy at Trinket was so full of cricket to be nigh incomprehensible, so I was utterly delighted when this one opened up banging on about the same topic. I’d picked this as a replacement due to a lucky Abebooks find – only a pittance for a US first edition from 1929 – but luckily it soon dives into the usual country house tropes.

Written in 1927 – we’ll come back to that later, as it’s important – this was Brian Flynn’s debut novel in the Anthony Bathurst series, which stretched to nearly 50 books before vanishing from bookshelves almost without trace. We get a detailed description of Bathurst – uncanny gifts for deduction, inference and intuition. These powers allied to a masterly memory for detail and to an unusual athleticism of body, separated him from the majority – one acknowledged instinctively his mental supremacy. He could probably crack walnuts with his buttocks too…

It trundles along hitting most of the usual notes for this sort of thing – a secondary crime that may or may not be related to the first, obvious suspects that are a bit too obvious – and it gives a few different least likely suspects to choose from for the actual culprit.

But…

… OK, if I’m going to state my problem with this, I’m going to have to get a lot closer to spoilers than usual. So before you go on, bear in mind that if Brian Flynn ever gets a reprint, then this, being the first, is a good candidate for appearing on your shelves. I’m going to be vague, but I would imagine that since you readers are smarter than the average ursine, you might put two and two together. You have been warned.

… last chance…

… sure? …

OK. Just highlight the text to read it.

The solution is worryingly similar to a better known book written by a better known author, published just a few years earlier. So similar, that you can’t help feeling it was a bit… copied. But unlike that book, the rationale here just doesn’t make sense, and, indeed, the opening section is arguably a worse cheat in misdirection than the one used by Carter Dickson in… hang on, that’s a spoiler too. In a certain Merrivale book that tends to annoy people. At least there, Carr/Dickson can sort of justify the massive cheat that he pulls off here. Whereas in this case… the ending makes a nonsense of the beginning.

OK, spoilers over.

Still, IF you haven’t read a certain book (and you almost certainly have), then this is Worth A Look. Not perfect, a little by-the-numbers in places, but a fairly clued mystery all the same.

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8 comments

  1. Well, you seem to have become more flexible in regard to spoilers ! 🙂

    However, your warning is justified. I was able to guess both the books referred to in the hidden section !

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    • Um, no. Hence the whiteout, and it’s still written in a vague way. But as you say, anyone who’s read a few mystery novels can probably see my point. In this case, I felt that the review had to make the comparison, but of course any such comparison would give a significant part of the game away.

      I spent a while trying to work out a way of mentioning it without giving the game away and simply couldn’t think of anything…

      Like


  2. There is also a hint in the first para of your review !

    OK, Puzzle Doctor here. I’ve whited out Santosh’s comment as it’s about the spoiler. Feel free to highlight it if you wish

    Like

  3. I was wondering,how were you able to get other copies of his books like The Case of Elymas the Sorcerer,it’s been almost impossible for me to find copies of his books.

    Like

    • Patience, regular eBay checks, and being willing to pay more than I would for a new book. There are affordable copies of a couple of titles out there – The Sharp Quillet seems the most common

      Like

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