Review : The Hog ‘ s Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts ( British Library Crime Classics #3 )

Plot Summary ( from Goodreads ) :

Dr . James Earle and his wife live in comfortable seclusion near the Hog’s Back , a ridge in the North Downs in the beautiful Surrey countryside . When Dr . Earle disappears from his cottage , Inspector French is called in to investigate . At first he suspects a simple domestic intrigue – and begins to uncover a web of romantic entanglements beneath the couple’s peaceful rural life .
The case soon takes a more complex turn . Other people vanish mysteriously, one of Dr . Earle’s house guests among them . What is the explanation for the disappearances ? If the missing people have been murdered , what can be the motive ? This fiendishly complicated puzzle is one that only Inspector French can solve .
Freeman Wills Crofts was a master of the intricately and ingeniously plotted detective novel , and The Hog’s Back Mystery shows him at the height of his powers .

This new edition of a classic mystery is introduced by the crime fiction expert Martin Edwards .

My thoughts on the book :

This is my first Freeman Wills Crofts ‘ read . I picked up this one because I had read that he had been described as ” the soundest builder of them all ” . The chief complaint of several modern reviewers seems to be that the prose could have had some better editing . So , I went into this one determined to like this one – I know this sounds absurd but having read enough suspense trash , I just wanted a decent suspense read with a competent investigator at the helm and an author who plays fair by his or her readers . After reading some of the recent ” suspense ” or ” psychological thriller ” offerings where the story – telling cheats the poor reader to keep turning the pages expecting for something to happen only to find the final third that the book had NOTHING to recommend it as a suspense – no strong motive for the increasing bloody and slasher style crimes , no believable line – up of suspects and most importantly , no deduction to speak of ( or should it be that the author has no idea how to drop the clues that even the lead investigator is clueless and keeps running around ) , I had no great expectations as to Crofts ‘ story – telling abilities but I was looking for a solidly plotted mystery and I am happy to say that I was not disappointed . The man ‘ s solid plotting means that not a minute is unaccounted for ( literally !!!) and the reader is played fair regarding the clues and the narrative is pretty decent .

While Inspector French going over the minutiae repeatedly while taking us through his thought processes during the formulation of his theories can become a tad tedious , still managing to keep the reader guessing till the reveal is a feat by itself . The SOLID motives abound and the line – up of suspects is pretty good . I could excuse Inspector French ‘ s monologues mentally patting himself for his systematic approach to the problem when he gets too pleased with himself after a big break because he doesn ‘ t have a Dr . Watson or Capt . Hastings who would do that for him . With Inspector French , Freeman introduces a detective who is a refreshing change from the egotistic and eccentric eternally single detective(s) who often inhabit a bubble which is void of any human emotions – Inspector French is happily married and most importantly , when Inspector French presents his deductions , we know the thought processes which had led to that final conclusion – it is never so easy as Holmes or Poirot make it out to be ( but it should be mentioned that this does not work in favor of Inspector French ) . One aspect of this work which has NOT aged well is it ‘ s over – reliance on time – tables and alibi verification using ” X takes Y minutes to travel the distance of Z miles in car ” calculations . In this day and age , one cannot simply buy this – even without the traffic , trains running behind schedule and other modern day woes Inspector French ‘ s methods might not have helped much say if he were to work in a village like St . Mary Mead where everyone knows everybody else ‘ s business and frequently neighbors would stop by each other ‘ s house for an impromptu chit – chat . However it should be noted here that these kind of alibi verifications would work for the setting presented in this story . . .

Despite guessing one of the perpetrators about two – thirds into the novel , the climax had a few surprises for me – on the whole this book is a timely reminder why one can trust a Golden Age mystery to keep the reader guessing and rather than the some of the modern ” psychological thrillers ” . . . If you have an interesting recommendations from the recent releases , do share in the comments section . . .

Rating : 3 . 5 / 5

If you have already read the book , you can say in the comments section about your thoughts on the book  . Until the next review then . . .

Review : The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay ( British Library Crime Classics #1 )

Sir Osmond Melbury is having a family gathering for Christmas at his country mansion Flaxmere but his sister is of the view that nothing good could ever come of the Melbury family gatherings . For a change , Sir Osmond has planned to liven up the Christmas festivities by having one of the guests dress up as Santa Claus and distribute the presents to his grand – children and the servants . Sir Osmond is found dead in his study with a bullet to his head by Oliver Wittcombe who is playing the Santa . While Oliver seems to have every opportunity to have fired the shot that killed Sir Osmund , he does not have an obvious motive . But almost every other member of the house party seems to have had their own motives but no easy opportunity as Oliver and also private suspicions about the identity of the killer . When the Chief Constable of Haulmshire thinks that he knows the family too well which could pose some difficulties for him but eventually realizes that there are too many things he does not know about the family . As the investigation proceeds , a startling discovery comes up : There were two Santas and not one . . .

The Santa Klaus murder is a classic country manor mystery . Sir Osmund ‘ s Santa plans need not fool you into thinking that he is the benevolent and affectionate man . He has always enjoyed a charged atmosphere and having people tip – toe around him . The patriarch demanded abject submission to his wishes from those around him and threatened them with reducing their inheritances if they chose to do otherwise . The family knows this to be no idle threat – his eldest daughter Hilda Wynford who was widowed at a young age with a child has not received any kind of support from her father because she married against his wishes except to be allowed at her father ‘ s house . ( Doesn ‘ t Sir Osmund bring to mind  wealthy entrepreneur Aristide Leonides from Agatha Christie ‘ s The Crooked House ? ) The narrative is structured as written accounts of the days prior to the tragic Christmas Day starting from the day when the members of the house party began to trickle at Flaxmere by some members of the house party . We also have a detailed chronicling of the investigation by Col . Halstock , the Chief Constable of Haulmshire and one chapter narrated by the amateur detective of this book , Kenneth Stour who also happens to be the ex – lover of Sir Osmond ‘ s daughter Lady Edith Evershot . . .

Col . Halstock is more like Watson and Kenneth , Holmes . While we have seen detectives who deduce a man ‘ s physical profile from his stride or read into something as random as a splash of candle grease or ponder about the most trivial observations of one ‘ s day , Col . Halstock sees a dislodged cover of a typewriter in the study where Sir Osmund had been murdered and does not think for a moment about getting it checked for fingerprints . Let the above statement not put you off . I think hardcore crime fiction fans would love being one – up over the investigating officer and the amateur sleuth for a change . However , all these gaffes during the investigation could not be held against Col . Halstock simply because he does not have the facts at all or is often mislead by the accounts of the inmates of the house who are keen on safe – guarding their loved ones whom they think have a decent motive for murdering Sir Osmund . Some humor , a good pace and the discovery of a new clue or perspective with each chapter , Col . Halstock is definitely not a detective bad enough to put you off this case . With the timely inputs from Kenneth Stour and his own decent deductions , the narrative keeps the reader engaged and is very enjoyable . And no , I did not guess the identity of the murderer correctly despite flattering myself that I spotted a few key clues even before the misinformed detective on the case spotted it . . .

Despite the good pace of the multiple narratives keeping the readers hooked , I felt that the writing of certain scenarios could have been better – while certain family members attribute ” solid ” motives to few others , there is not a single private conversation or confrontation to add weight to their arguments that X / Y have a good motive to bump off the old man . All those suspects did not utter a single menacing word against Sir Osmund . While I never guessed the culprit , I would have liked a narrative from him about how he almost pulled off a perfect murder . . . Certain characters do not get a mention in the POSTSCRIPT chapter – after all the concern I had invested on the suicidal ex – chauffeur I would definitely like to know if his fortunes took a turn for the better or if Sir Osmund ‘ s Miss Lemon got her next job . . .

Rating : 3 . 75 / 5

Despite some flaws , you definitely would not regret getting a taste of Golden Age Crime Fiction writing from Mavis Doriel Hay , whom I think definitely needs wider recognition . Highly recommended from me . If you have already read the book , let me know in the comments section about your thoughts on the book and also which cover do you prefer . Until the next review then . .