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The Sea Mystery

A review of The Sea Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts – 240412

When you pick up a book by Freeman Wills Crofts you can be certain that you are going to be immersed in a detailed, often too detailed, account of a thorough investigation into a seemingly baffling and complicated mystery. His books are an acquired taste with no real pretensions to literature although he is a masterful storyteller and leaves his reader entertained, sometimes frustrated, and not a little baffled. The Sea Mystery, the fourth in his Inspector French series, originally published in 1928, is a case in point.

Characters do not simply go from A to B but with a gazetteer or a Bradshaws at hand Crofts details their precise route, as if challenging the reader to find a fault in the journey they have undergone. When French is presented with a dilemma or a decision as to which direction he should follow his investigations, it is as if the author is presenting his readers with a decision tree against which they can judge the sleuth’s actions. French is presented very much as a one man band, aided and abetted by various members of forces around the country for sure, but the focus of the narrative on the lead detective who makes all the calls on the direction of the case means that the reader discovers clues and is aware of significant revelations at the same time as French. The surprises are French’s surprises too.

French is by no means a super, omniscient investigator. His success is down to painstakingly thorough investigation of every aspect of the case, leaving no stone unturned. This is how he can identify the body of the victim stuffed in a large crate and fished out by amateur anglers,  Mr Morgan and his son, Evan, from the waters off Burry Port in Wales and work out from a few holes and a book of mechanical formulae how long the crate took to sink and where it had been thrown into the sea.

But French is also fallible. At the very moment that he preens himself for his brilliance in cracking a seemingly insoluble case, he realizes that he has made a series of disastrous mistakes that could have cost him his long sought after promotion to Chief Inspector and, more importantly, in a struggle at the end, his life. Not only did he allow his principal suspects escape, having been lured into a cleverly constructed trap, but he had also failed to identify the right culprit and indeed the victim. He is a man whose size nines are very much made of clay.

Sometimes, the bleedin’ obvious is the right answer and for all his cleverness, French fails to give due regard to the beneficiary of a murder involving a love triangle. By immersing the reader into the minutiae of French’s thought processes, Crofts is able to swamp them with so much detail that they are unable to see the woods for the trees. A second, more detached, pair of eyes might have saved French a lot of time and effort and question the very premise upon which his case is founded. The moral of the story is that you should be very careful whom you ask to identify a body.

To be fair to French, the culprits have gone to enormous, perhaps even ludicrous, lengths to conceal their guilt and make life difficult for the investigators. That French eventually gets there is no mean achievement. Although the book stands on its own, French reminisces about The Starvel Hollow Tragedy and a protagonist of The Cheyne Mystery receives a name check and, curiously, Crofts comments that the set up is very similar to his breakthrough novel, The Cask, presumably on the basis that anyone who picked up The Sea Mystery had read his earlier work.

Crofts is an acquired taste but if you are prepared to enter into the spirit, it is a worthwhile experience.



This post first appeared on Windowthroughtime | A Wry View Of Life For The World-weary, please read the originial post: here

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The Sea Mystery

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