Invisible Death by Brian Flynn

My husband, Guy Sanderson Whittaker is in grave danger and appeals to you for help. If you can see your way to answer this appeal, your answer must be as secret as possible, because his enemies must not know you have joined forces with us. You have a week to act.

Thus reads an excerpt from a letter sent to Anthony Bathurst, imploring him to head north to save a man’s life. But as soon as he reaches Liverpool, he knows something is wrong, as at least four suspicious looking men are searching for him. Enlisting the help of his ally Percy Daventry, he makes his way to Swallowcliffe Hall just in time, finding a house under siege.

That night, the siege seems to be over, as Whittaker’s enemies break in, only to find Bathurst and his allies ready for them. But in the middle of the siege, Whittaker collapses, dead, without a mark on his body, with nobody standing near him. Even his enemies seem to be astonished that the man lies dead…

Oh, this was exactly the sort of book that I needed. You may have noticed that last month, I didn’t review anything from the Golden Age. I’ve been breaking through my backlog of reviews and this, coupled with a hectic time at work – your basic school November – and I never found time. So, despite more reviews still owing, I thought I’d treat myself. And what a treat it is…

Some people may question why I review books like this. Invisible Death is an obscure title from an obscure author. There are two copies on Abebooks, going at £25 and £35 – my copy was a bit cheaper, thankfully – but it’s still pretty obscure. But I don’t want it to be. I really want people to be able to read Flynn’s work. Even when it’s average, it’s a decent read, but when he’s on top form – here, The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye and Tread Softly, to name but three – I think he’s up there with the best of the best.

The set-up here is original, with Whittaker being sought out for revenge by the Silver Troika, remnants of a group that were thwarted in their rise to power after the Russian Revolution.

“We removed these rat-faced excrescences one by one. Not by murder, Mr Bathurst. We tried and executed them.”

The characters, while having some dated attitudes, vibrantly populate the book, and the writing is either done with a very tongue-in-cheek or a very dated style. I’m pretty sure it’s the former, as I don’t think Christie would ever describe someone as “trained to a hair, hard as a bag of nails and without an ounce of superfluous flesh, an eminently useful man in most places”.

That’s Bathurst, by the way. Flynn never seems to address exactly who he is, but people seem to have heard of him and be somewhat concerned about his involvement. But he’s an entertaining character, not presented as the infallible sleuth – indeed, the person he is asked to protect ends up murdered – but determined to sort things out. Daventry is one of the more bonkers characters I’ve seen in Golden Age fiction – this is him describing the events when he was captured and trying to find a way to escape:

“As I was commencing the old council of war with Peter Daventry Esquire not only in the chair but also forming the snappy old quorum, an angel blew along. His face was red, his nose snub and more red and his breath singularly redolent of “Spearmint”. I fell on his neck like unto the old prodigal and in response he directed me to Swallowcliffe Hall”.

He talks like that a lot. Sayers, in her book reviews, accuses Flynn of being overly verbose, but to be fair here, it’s mostly his characters, in particular Daventry, likes the sound of his own voice so much. Everyone else talks fairly normally, although there seems to be an overabundance of cricket and horse-racing mentions at times…

As for the mystery, it takes a while for the murder – um, unexplained death – to occur, but the book never flags for a moment. The method of murder – um, unexplained death – is, I think, original for the time. I’ve seen it since once or twice, more in variations, but this is from 1929, so I’m pretty sure Flynn predates… well, if I named the authors in question, that might just give too big a hint. It’s pretty basic though, despite me missing it completely.

So Dean St Press, are you listening? Please – let Flynn be the next on your list and let people read this utter treat. On the off-chance a cheapish copy passes your way, dear reader, this is, fairly obviously, Highly Recommended. While I’ve read more worthy books recently, I’ve not had this much fun in ages.

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6 comments

  1. Yes I second the vote for the Dean Street Press to reprint some of his work. Certainly sounds like an unusual book with its – um unexplained death – and interesting that it was written so early. I feel like most of my GAD reading these days is coming from the 30s onwards. Feel like I am unintentionally neglecting the 20s.

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    • This is the sixth Flynn/Bathurst novel – gadetection errs in placing this before The Murders Near Mapleton, as it’s mentioned in the text. I’d say that most of the writing in the 20s that I’ve seen tends not to have caught up to Christie’s style – Flynn clicks into the expected style a lot faster than Carr for example. Admittedly, one book is a possibly shameless lift from Christie, but we’ll let that one slide…

      Oh, and “some” of his work? That’s not the Dean St Press style, is it?

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      • I suppose it might be fair to argue that the 30s were better than the 20s in terms of quality? Perhaps because the 20s had so many new writers starting out and therefore took time to hone their craft.

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  2. I happen to have this book is dust jacket. I’ve collected Flynn on and off for about a decade or so, like I did Bude. I wish I had gotten more Flynns before you started blogging about him!

    Flynn is one of the writers I mentioned to DSP back in 2015, you’ll be pleased to know, but I didn’t blog about him, because, frankly, some of the authors I have blogged about have ended up with other presses, with no mention made of where the idea came! Since you have taken him up so powerfully, I haven’t blogged about him still, but I think I may do one in the next few weeks. Your enthusiasm is contagious!

    Part of the challenge with DSP and reprints can simply be getting access to the books. Authors like Flynn present a challenge in that regard, if one wants to reprint all the titles. Locating a copy of Christopher Bush’s The Plumley Inheritance, for example, took some time, happened literally at the last minute. My own Flynn collection probably consists only of a dozen books or so,

    I was well situated to make all the Street titles available to a publisher, but I never found the people handling the Street estate to be interested in doing this, so sadly it never into being. Now his huge catalog is coming out in dribs and drabs, but that’s better than nothing!

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