Conspiracy At Angel by Brian Flynn

When Richard Langley entered the town of Angel, he never expected things to transpire the way they did. He never expected to meet Priscilla Schofield. He never expected to be asked to deliver her kitten Ahaseurus to Priscilla’s father. And he never expected to stumble into the wrong house and come face to face with a gang of obvious criminals – a really bad time to walk in and, in an attempt at humour, announce that the cat was out of the bag.

Soon, Langley finds himself looking over his shoulder for enemies in the shadows and when a body turns up in his car, things start to hot up. But it is only when Langley himself disappears that Priscilla decides she needs to summon some help – help in the form of Anthony Lotherington Bathurst.

Every author has one – Agatha Christie had Postern Of Fate and Passenger To Frankfurt. John Dickson Carr had Papa La Bas. But these were their final works, as age and infirmity kicked in. But they also had the occasional stinker when they were at the height of their powers. Christie’s The Clocks, for example, or Carr (as Carter Dickson) with And So To Murder. The Facebook GAD group offered Gladys Mitchell’s Mudflats Of The Dead, Edmund Crispin’s Frequent Hearses, Ngaio Marsh’s Died In The Wool, John Rhode’s Pinehurst, Michael Innes’ The Open House and many, many more. Authors who generally wrote great books – well, for me at least the jury is still out on Innes – but for some reason had an utter drop in quality for a book or two. Well, you can probably see where I’m going with this…

Generally speaking, Flynn has gone under the radar for years until a certain blogster became obsessed with him, but one reference to him comes from Jacques Barzun in his Catalogue of Crime. Barzun had read only one title by Flynn, and responded that the book he read was:

“Straight tripe and savorless. It is doubtful, on the evidence, if any of his others would be different”

And the book that he read was this one.

Imagine if the first and only book by Dame Agatha that you read was The Clocks. Or Postern Of Fate. It would put you off for life. And, of all the Brian Flynn titles that Barzun read, he had to choose this one. Now, I’ve read sixteen books by Brian Flynn and enjoyed to varying degrees every single one of them, so I know this is an aberration, but after this one, no wonder Barzun dismissed him.

To be fair, I’d not call it savorless. I like Flynn’s verbose writing style and his turn of phrase, so it’s not savorless. But it is tripe. Because he forgot to put a mystery in the story.

The book it reminds me of most is Allingham’s Traitor’s Purse, with lots of running around after villains and not much really happening. There’s no whodunit element here at all, with the only mystery being what the villains are up to. And it’s a stupid scheme which is extremely dated and that I’m not convinced would have worked anyway, and really doesn’t seem enough to kill over.

Add in some rather painful flirting between Langley and Pauline, Pauline’s father who is the biggest stereotype of the retired colonel stereotype – who is quite amusing at times to be fair – and Anthony Bathurst in a dress… no, this may not be savorless, but it is unfortunately tripe. The title is pretty dull too – very Rhode-ian.

But on the plus side, my copy has a dustjacket. Isn’t it pretty? That’s Bathurst, by the way, so now I have a picture of my hero. But the book… Not Recommended.

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15 comments

  1. Sounds like the J B Priestley novel I read on the blog the while back – a bit of a rubbish half hearted thriller.
    In regards to Innes I’d say he mostly wrote mysteries which start off with a good idea, but then peter off badly to varying degrees in the middle and the end of the books. The one book he really got the mystery angle right was What Happened to Hazelwood? – a non Appleby novel interestingly enough.

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    • I’ll be honest, I still haven’t read the two recommended Innes titles, Death At The Presidents Lodgings and Hamlet Revenge, but I want to try and read one before Bodies. Or possibly I might try another of the crap ones…

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      • Only read the first of those two and found it an okay read but not brilliant. Avoid The Daffodil Affair and From London Far as I remember those being pretty dire reads.

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  2. Firstly, sorry this was a dud. I understand now why you were asking your question on Twitter the other day! With regards the cover, it is certainly attractive but I am wondering why the hero has felt compelled to press his thumb into a spider’s web. Does it reflect a moment in the plot?

    Finally, I am very much of your mind when it comes to Innes and had initially assumed your ‘and many more’ referenced perennial disappointment with his works. Which sounds more or less right.

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  3. Oh dear, this is one to watch out for, given how expensive the Flynn novels are. I managed to procure copies of ‘Tread Softly’ and ‘Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye’, but I’m holding back in the hope that more will be published electronically, and therefore economically.

    What would your top 4 Flynn novels be? I’m presuming the above two are in the ranking – would the other two come close to these two in quality?

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    • Probably Invisible Death and The Murders At Mapleton, with a possible inclusion of The Spiked Lion. But the two more affordable ones, Exit Sir John and The Sharp Quillet are fun reads too, just not on the level of the very best. Keep crossing those fingers from the re-issues…

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  4. I very much disagree about Innes, at least if most of his later books (after about 1970) are omitted. In particular, I’d put Lament for a Maker in my top 10, although I seem to be in a minority where bloggers and blog commentators (is there a single word for that group of people?) are concerned.

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  5. Well, he wrote nearly 60 books, right? Stands to reason at least one of them will be a duffer. Hell, the amazing thing would be if they were all at least good…and I’m not sure even the most ardent fans of any mystery author with 30+ books would claim everything that person wrote achieved that standard — even Paul Halter has off days 🙂

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    • 54, so I believe, and yes, they can’t all be perfect. It seems as if this was a deliberate change in style but it’s entirely possible that this was a mid-writing life crisis. Having said that, the two books either side of this are straight “proper” mysteries.

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  6. I’m with Jonathan O – a big fan of Innes. Death at the President’s Lodging and Hamlet, Revenge! are both strong titles, so if you do give one of these a go, I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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  7. A bad Innes is still better than a lot of the tripe and trash that does get published. I’ve read a large number of his titles (sometimes several times) and I still enjoy them. In fact there are very few British “golden age” mysteries that I don’t like and enjoy. The list of authors is still oo many to list, but well done.

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