A Crime is Afoot: February 2018 Leisure Reading

leisure_readingFirst, books I read last January, whose reviews I posted later on:

The Case Of The April Fools (1933) by Christopher Bush (#9 in Ludovic Travers) (A)

Have Mercy on Us All, 2001 (Adamsberg #3) by Ferd Vargas (Tran: David Bellos) (A)

Secondly, books I read and reviewed during this month of February 2018:

Maigret’s Doubts, 1958 (Inspector Maigret #52) by Georges Simenon (Trans: Shaun Whiteside) (A+)

Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart and the British Detective Novel, 1920-1961, by Curtis Evans (Highly recommended)

Mystery in the Channel, 1931 (Inspector French #7) by Freeman Wills Crofts (A)

Maigret’s Mistake, 1953 (Inspector Maigret #43) by Georges Simenon (Trans: Howard Curtis) (A+)

And finally, books I’ve read or that I’m presently reading whose reviews I’ll be posting soon:

Death Makes a Prophet, 1947 (Superintendent William Meredith #11), by John Bude

This is How it Ends (2018) by Eva Dolan

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, 1940 (Hercule Poirot # 19) by Agatha Christie

Fortunately, the weather forecast for the coming days announces rains, the much needed rains, which will certainly help me finish the readings and reviews I still have  pending. Stay tuned.

Freeman Wills Crofts (1879-1957)

This entry was intended as a private note, but I thought it might be of interest to some regular or sporadic readers of A Crime is Afoot.

Freeman Wills Crofts, FRSA –Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, (1879 – 1957) was an Anglo-Irish mystery author during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.

Freeman-Wills-CroftsCrofts was born in Dublin, Ireland. His father, also named Freeman Wills Crofts, was a surgeon-lieutenant in the Army Medical Service, but he died of fever in Honduras before the young Freeman Wills Crofts was born. His mother, née Celia Frances Wise, remarried the Venerable Jonathan Harding, Vicar of Gilford, County Down, and Archdeacon of Dromore, and Crofts was brought up in the Gilford vicarage. He attended Methodist College and Campbell College in Belfast. In 1912 he married Mary Bellas Canning, daughter of the manager of a local bank in Coleraine.

In 1896, at the age of seventeen, Crofts was apprenticed to his maternal uncle, Berkeley Deane Wise, who was chief engineer of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway. In 1899 Crofts was appointed Junior Assistant on the construction of the Londonderry and Strabane Extension of the Donegal Railway. In 1900 he became District Engineer at Coleraine for the L.M.S. Northern Counties Committee at a salary of £100 per year. In 1922 Crofts was promoted to Chief Assistant Engineer of the railway, based in Belfast. He lived at ‘Grianon’ in Jordanstown, a quiet village some 6 miles north of Belfast, where it was convenient for Crofts to travel by train each day to the railway’s offices at York Road. Croft continued his engineering career until 1929. In his last task as an engineer, he was commissioned by the Government of Northern Ireland to chair an inquiry into the Bann and Lough Neagh Drainage Scheme.

In 1919, during an absence from work due to a long illness, Crofts wrote his first novel, The Cask (1920), which established him as a new master of detective fiction. Crofts continued to write steadily, producing a book almost every year for thirty years, in addition to a number of short stories and plays.

He is best remembered for his favourite detective, Inspector Joseph French, who was introduced in his fifth book, Inspector French’s Greatest Case (1924). Inspector French always set about unravelling each of the mysteries presented him in a workmanlike, exacting manner – this approach set him apart from most other fictional sleuths.

In 1929, he abandoned his railway engineering career and became a full-time writer. He settled in the village of Blackheath, near Guildford, in Surrey, and a number of his books are set in the Guildford area, including The Hog’s Back Mystery (1933) and Crime at Guildford (1935). Many of his stories have a railway theme, and his particular interest in the apparently unbreakable alibi often focussed on the intricacies of railway timetables. At the end of his life, he and his wife moved to Worthing, Sussex in 1953, where they lived until his death in 1957, the year in which his last book was published.

He was a member, with Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie, of the Detection Club which met in Gerrard Street. In 1939 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Crofts was esteemed, not only by his regular readers, but also by his fellow writers of the so-called Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Agatha Christie included parodies of Inspector French alongside Sherlock Holmes and her own Hercule Poirot in Partners in Crime (1929). Raymond Chandler described him as “the soundest builder of them all when he doesn’t get too fancy” (in The Simple Art of Murder). His attention to detail and his concentration on the mechanics of detection makes him the forerunner of the “police procedural” school of crime fiction.

However, it has also given rise to a suggestion of a certain lack of flair – Julian Symons describing him as of “the humdrum school”. This may explain why his name has not remained as familiar as other more colourful and imaginative Golden Age writers, although he had 15 books included in the Penguin Books “green” series of the best detective novels and 36 of his books were in print in paperback in 2000.

Edited from Wikipedia: Freeman Wills Crofts

Note: Freeman Wills Crofts writes exacting mysteries that are incredibly detailed, and Inspector French loves to break unbreakable alibis and chase after obscure technical points. Many are inverted mysteries, rather than whodunnits, so think of them as more police procedurals. Not everyone will enjoy Crofts style, but if you like one, you will probably like most of them! These are very unique mysteries and every fan should at least try one to discover if this is an author they want to read!

Selected bibliography: Inspector French and the Starvel Tragedy (1927), The Sea Mystery (1928), Sir John Magill’s Last Journey(1930), Mystery in the Channel (1931), The Hog’s Back Mystery (1933), Mystery on Southampton Water (1934), Crime at Guildford (1935) and The Loss of the “Jane Vosper” (1936) (Source: Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery (McFarland & Company Inc. 2012) by Curtis Evans).

Read more about Freeman Wills Crofts at Gadetection

Freeman Wills Crofts by Bassano Ltd half-plate film negative, 13 June 1939. Given by Bassano & Vandyk Studios, 1974. Photographs Collection. NPG x156451.

Licence details at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/.

Bernadette (at Reactions to Reading) In Memoriam


I’m truly desolated.

I’ve just heard that my online friend and fellow blogger Bernadette (at Reactions to Reading) has passed away.

May she rest in peace.

I’m sure her memory will always remain with us all, her blogging friends.

Review: Maigret’s Mistake, 1953 (Inspector Maigret #43) by Georges Simenon (Trans: Howard Curtis)

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

Penguin Classics, 2017. Format: Paperback. First published in French as Maigret se trompe by Presses de la Cité, 1953. It was first translated into English in 1954 as Maigret’s Mistake by Alan Hodge. This translation by Howard Curtis was first published in 2017. ISBN:  978-0-241-27984-7. 176 pages.

cover.jpg.rendition.460.707Book description: In book forty-three Maigret’s fascination with a charismatic brain surgeon nearly blinds him to the truth at the heart of a case involving a mysterious young woman in a luxury Paris apartment block. ‘Maigret had questioned thousands, tens of thousands of people in the course of his career, some occupying important positions, others who were more famous for their wealth, and others still who were considered the most intelligent of international criminals. Yet he attached an importance to this interrogation he had attached to no previous interrogation, and it wasn’t Gouin’s social position that overawed him, or his worldwide fame.’

My take: Right after breakfast, Maigret answers to a phone call informing him that a corpse had just been found. The body in question belongs to a young woman named Louise Filon and it was found by her cleaning lady at her apartment on Avenue Carnot. She was killed by a shot fired at close range. Robbery does not appear to have been the motive of her death and the hypothesis that she could have taken her own life is  ruled out soon, as there was not a single weapon in the house. During the course of the investigation it is discovered soon that the late Louise Filon, had been known as Lulu and, some time ago, had been working as a street prostitute. For this reason, she was not well-accepted among the residents of  her apartment block and, as she had no  known income, is evident she was the mistress of a man of means. Maigret suspects that neither the cleaning lady, nor the woman emploid as concierge, tell the true, or at least they are not telling all they know. The first suspicions fall on her boyfriend, a young musician of scarce resources, unable to maintain her and even less of paying the rent of her apartment. But, to his misfortune, the young musician  has gone missing. The one who soon appears is a famous surgeon living in the floor upstairs Louise Falon’s apartment, occupying the entire plant, and who doesn’t hide at all that she was his mistress.  But when the autopsy discovers that the young lady was some weeks pregnant, the case takes a much more sinister turn of what Maigret could ever have imagined.

As Murielle Wenger has pointed out while most of the novels in the Fayard and Gallimard cycle are developed outside Paris, in the Presses de la Cité cycle, Maigret investigates more often in Paris, and they usually begin with Maigret at home or in his office at Quai des Orfèvres, and this instalment is not an exception. Murielle Wenger also highlights in this novel the successive portraits of women characters that will gradually emerged in this novel. But the figure of Dr Étienne Gouin will end up being the central character in the story. A character that even if he is only present in the last chapter, his presence is permeating the entire narration.

Like the professor, Maigret had been born in a village in the centre of France and like him, he had had to fend for himself at an early stage.
Maigret had even started studying medicine. If he had been able to continue, he probably wouldn’t have become a surgeon, lacking the necessary manual dexterity, but nevertheless had the impression that there were a number of things that he and Lulu’s lover had in common.
It was pride on his part, and that was why he preferred not to think about it, They both, it seemed to him, had an almost equal knowledge of men and life.
Not the same knowledge and above all not the same reactions. They were rather like opposites, but equal opposites.

In a nutshell, this is, perhaps, one of the lesser known of Maigret mysteries,  and. maybe for this reason I have very much enjoyed its reading. Its amazing ending fully justifies its reading. The story was written in Shadow Rock Farm, Lakeville (Connecticut), United States, from August 24 to 31, 1953. I strongly recommend it.

My rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

About the author: Georges Simenon was one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century, capable of writing 60 to 80 pages per day. His oeuvre includes nearly 200 novels, over 150 novellas, several autobiographical works, numerous articles, and scores of pulp novels written under more than two dozen pseudonyms. Altogether, about 550 million copies of his works have been printed. He is best known, however, for his 75 novels and 28 short stories featuring Commissaire Maigret. The first novel in the series, Pietr-le-Letton, appeared in 1931; the last one, Maigret et M. Charles, was published in 1972. The Maigret novels were translated into all major languages and several of them were turned into films and radio plays. Two television series (1960-63 and 1992-93) have been made in Great Britain. Simenon also wrote a large number of “psychological novels”, such as La neige était sale (1948) or Le fils (1957), as well as several autobiographical works, in particular Je me souviens (1945), Pedigree (1948), Mémoires intimes (1981).

About the translator: Howard Curtis has more than twenty years experience working as a freelance literary translator from French, Italian and Spanish for publishers including Harvill Secker, Little Brown, Europa Editions, Constable & Robinson, Pushkin Press, Gallic Books, Bitter Lemon Press, Hesperus Press, Transworld, Crown, etc. Among the authors he has translated are Jean-Claude Izzo, Gianrico Carofiglio, Luis Sepulveda, Jean-Francois Parot, Marek Halter, Pietro Grossi, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Michele Giuttari, Donato Carrisi, Georges Simenon, Gustave Flaubert, Honore de Balzac, Luigi Pirandello, Beppe Fenoglio, Leonardo Sciascia, Andre Malraux, Francisco Coloane, Caroline Lamarche, Giorgio Faletti, Marc Dugain, Filippo Bologna, Marella Caracciolo Chia, Caryl Ferey, Fabio Geda, Santiago Gamboa, Simona Sparaco, Carole Martinez, Paolo Sorrentino and Alessandro Perissinotto. Specialties: Contemporary and classic fiction and non-fiction. (Source: Howard Curtis Linkedin page)

Maigret’s Mistake has been reviewed at A Penguin a week

Penguin UK publicity page

Penguin US publicity page 

Maigret se trompe 

Maigret of the Month: August, 2007

Tout Maigret


Maigret se equivoca, de Georges Simenon

Descripción del libro: En el libro cuarenta y tres, la fascinación de Maigret por un carismático neurocirujano casi le oculta la verdad en el fondo de un caso en el que está implicada una joven misteriosa que vive en un lujoso bloque de apartamentos de París. “Maigret había interrogado a miles, a decenas de miles de personas en el transcurso de su carrera, algunos de los cuales ocupaban puestos importantes, otros que eran más famosos por su riqueza y otros todavía que eran considerados los más inteligentes delincuentes internacionales. Sin embargo, le dió una importancia a este interrogatorio como nunca antes le había dado a ningún otro interrogatorio anterior,  y no era porque le intimidara la posición social de Gouin o su fama mundial.”

Mi opinión: Justo después del desayuno, Maigret responde a una llamada telefónica informándole que acababan de encontrar un cadáver. El cuerpo en cuestión pertenece a una mujer joven llamada Louise Filon y su mujer de la limpieza la encontró en su departamento de Avenue Carnot. Ella fue asesinada de un tiro a corta distancia. El robo no parece haber sido el motivo de su muerte y la hipótesis de que podría haberse suicidado se descarta pronto, ya que no había ni una sola arma en la casa. Durante el curso de la investigación, se descubre pronto que la difunta Louise Filon había sido conocida como Lulu y, hace algún tiempo, había trabajado como prostituta callejera. Por esta razón, no era bien aceptada entre los residentes de su bloque de apartamentos y, como no tenía ingresos conocidos, es evidente que era la amante de un hombre de recursos. Maigret sospecha que ni la mujer de la limpieza, ni la mujer empleada como conserje, dicen la verdad, o al menos no están diciendo todo lo que saben. Las primeras sospechas recaen sobre su novio, un joven músico de escasos recursos, incapaz de mantenerla y mucho menos de pagar el alquiler de su apartamento. Pero, para su desgracia, el joven músico ha desaparecido. El que pronto aparece es un famoso cirujano que vive en el piso de arriba del apartamento de Louise Falon, ocupando toda la planta, y que no oculta en absoluto que ella era su amante. Pero cuando la autopsia descubre que la joven estaba embarazada de algunas semanas, el caso toma un giro mucho más siniestro de lo que Maigret podría haber imaginado.

Como Murielle Wenger ha señalado mientras la mayoría de las novelas del ciclo Fayard y Gallimard se desarrollan fuera de París, en el ciclo Presses de la Cité, Maigret investiga más a menudo en París, y por lo general comienzan con Maigret en su casa o en su oficina en Quai des Orfèvres, y esta entrega no es una excepción. Murielle Wenger también destaca en esta novela los sucesivos retratos de personajes femeninos que irán surgiendo gradualmente en esta novela. Pero la figura del Dr. Étienne Gouin terminará siendo el personaje central de la historia. Un personaje que incluso si solo está presente en el último capítulo, su presencia está impregnando toda la narración.

Como el profesor, Maigret había nacido en un pueblo en el centro de Francia y, como él, había tenido que arreglárselas solo desde su niñez.
Maigret incluso había comenzado a estudiar medicina. Si hubiera podido continuar, probablemente no se hubiera convertido en cirujano, careciendo de la destreza manual necesaria, pero sin embargo tenía la impresión de que había varias cosas que él y el amante de Lulu tenían en común.
Era orgullo por su parte, y era por eso que prefería no pensar en ello. Ambos, a su parecer, tenían un conocimiento idéntico de los hombres y de la vida.
No el mismo conocimiento y sobre todo no tenían las mismas reacciones. Eran más bien como opuestos, pero opuestos iguales.

En pocas palabras, este es, quizás, uno de los misterios de Maigret menos conocidos, y. tal vez por esta razón he disfrutado mucho su lectura. Su sorprendente final justifica plenamente su lectura. La historia fue escrita en Shadow Rock Farm, Lakeville (Connecticut), Estados Unidos, del 24 al 31 de agosto de 1953. Lo recomiendo encarecidamente.

Mi valoración: A+ (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

Sobre el autor: Autor y periodista belga, Georges Simenon abandonó los estudios secundarios por necesidades económicas y se dedicó a varios trabajos ocasionales hasta entrar a trabajar como reportero de La Gazette de Liège, trabajo que le permitió conocer los ambientes marginales de su ciudad y que le servirían para sus novelas. Simenon publicó por primera vez en 1921 bajo seudónimo, y un año después se instaló en París, viviendo ambientes culturales y bohemios. Viajó por todo el mundo haciendo reportajes y entrevistas. Tras la Segundo Guerra Mundial, viajó a Estados Unidos, en donde permaneció diez años, continuando con su labor literaria. A su regreso, se instaló en la Costa Azul y posteriormente en un pueblo cerca de Lausana. Simenon fue un autor prolífico, con casi 200 novelas publicadas, es uno de los autores en lengua francesa más vendidos de la historia, y es conocido principalmente por sus 103 títulos (75 novelas y 28 relatos) protagonizados por el Comisario Jules Maigret.

Review: Mystery in the Channel, 1931 (Inspector French #7) by Freeman Wills Crofts

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

British Library Publishing, 2016. Format: Kindle edition. File size: 1871.0 KB. Print length: 279 pages. Originally published in 1931 by W. Collins Sons & Co. With an Introduction by Martin Edwards, 2016. ASIN: B01KG1RIIO. eISBN: 978-0-7123-6424-9

51gHpLJ9F-LBook description: The Chichester is making a routine journey across the English Channel on a pleasant afternoon in June, when the steamer’s crew notice something strange. A yacht, bobbing about in the water ahead of them, appears to have been abandoned, and there is a dark red stain on the deck… Two bodies later, with no sign of a gun, there certainly is a mystery in the channel. Inspector French soon discovers a world of high-powered banking, luxury yachts and international double-dealing. British and French coastal towns, harbours – and of course the Channel itself – provide an alluring backdrop to this nautical adventure, along with a cast of shady characters.

My take: Martin Edwards, in his introduction, offers a precise summary along the following lines: In a pleasant afternoon towards the end of June, the Chichester, the steamship covering the regular line between Newhaven and Dieppe, descries a pleasure yacht sailing adrift. Upon a closer scrutiny, the captain realizes a man’s body is lying on the deck. When some crew members go aboard the yacht finding that there’s not only one corpse, but two. Both men have been shot to death, but there is no trace whatsoever of any firearm nor even of a suspect. Both bodies are identified soon They happen to be Moxon and Deeping, the chairman and vice-chairman respectively of Moxon General Securities, one of the main financial houses in the country. In consequence, Inspector Joseph French of Scotland Yard will be in charge of the investigation, reporting directly to the Assistant Commissioner, Sir Mortimer Ellison. Simultaneously it becomes public that Moxon Securities was on the verge of insolvency and that a large amount, nearly a million and a half pounds, has disappeared from its coffers. It also becomes known that another senior partner in the firm has gone missing and that the only two really confidential officials were both absent. Everything seems to point that Moxon and Depping were fleeing the country with whatever they had been able to rescue from their financial collapse. Who and how killed them? Where is the money of many households that have lost all their savings? And thus, Inspector French will need to confront himself with one of the toughest challenges in his career, putting even his own life at risk in the interest of justice.

And Curtis Evans, in Chapter Three of his study Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery entitled Freeman Wills Crofts (1879 – 1957): The Greatest Puritan of Them All, provides and excellent introduction to the life and work of Crofts. “Crofts’ work characteristically has been noted for its carefully structured plots, seemingly impregnable alibis and exhaustively-detailed timetables, and for good reason”. According to Curtis Evans Crofts produced in his peak period (roughly 1927 to 1936) at least eight genre masterpieces: Inspector French and the Starvel Tragedy (1927), The Sea Mystery (1928), Sir John Magill’s Last Journey (1930), Mystery in the Channel (1931), The Hog’s Back Mystery (1933), Mystery on Southampton Water (1934), Crime at Guildford (1935) and The Loss of the “Jane Vosper” (1936). It’s of interest to point out that Croft’s first novel, The Cask, together with Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, both written in 1916 and published in 1920 ….., can be considered the first novels to introduce the Golden Age of detective fiction.  And it is to be highlighted also that Crofts himself, in a 1935 article, “Meet Chief-Inspector French”, wrote that , a would-be detective novelist has first to decide whether his detective will be “brilliant and a character” or merely an ordinary and humdrum personality.” And he decided to take the humdrum route for two reasons: first, because by doing so he offers an innovation in detective stories, given that there are already in the genre a great many “character’ detectives, descendant  by direct line from Sherlock Holmes; and second, as Crofts admitted with candid innocence, because it was hard to maintain consistently a character with those specific features. In any case Crofts was considered one of the supreme practitioners of detective fiction for many years, declining his reputation somewhat only in the years immediately before World War II, and dropping considerably in the 1940s and 1950s. But even today his position as the supposed best representative of the Golden Age “Humdrum school of detective novelists.” as Julian Symons designated him, still remains.

It is thus understandable my interest on Crofts’ novels, and I must confess that all my expectations have been fulfilled. I found the story interesting and even relevant in these days, the plot is well-crafted and it turns out credible enough, and Crofts’ taste for detail is evident as in the following excerpt:

  “….If the Nymph reached Point M at twelve-thirty, at what hour did she leave Folkestone?”
This involved scaling the distance which Bateman made 54 sea miles, and dividing it by 8 knots they had just found by experiment. It worked out at 6 3/4 hours, and this gave 5,45 a.m. as the time at which Moxon left Folkestone.
“By Jove,” said French, “that’s not bad. I’ve evidence that she actually did leave at 5.50.”

To conclude, Mystery in the Channel (1931) [aka Mystery in the English Channel] is the seventh instalment in the series featuring Inspector French. A series that stretches from 1924 until 1957, comprising thirty titles. And I look forward to reading other books in the series.

My rating: A ( I loved it)

About the author: Freeman Wills Crofts (1879–1957) was one of the pre-eminent writers in the golden age of British crime fiction. He was the author of more than thirty detective novels and was greatly admired by his peers, including Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler. He was born in Ireland, the son of a British army Doctor. After a religious upbringing and education, Crofts went on to become a railway engineer, a job he stuck with for most of his working life. But it was not until recovering from a serious illness, in 1919, that Crofts dipped his toe in to the literary pool that was to become the ‘Golden Age of Crime Fiction’. The result was his first, and arguably best, novel The Cask. It was published in 1920 by Collins and was an immediate success both at home and abroad. It was, and still is, an important landmark book. Crofts background, in railways and engineering, emerges frequently (too frequently for some) throughout his books. His greatest strength is also his greatest weakness, depending on your point of view. The great attention to detail, whilst admirable, can come at the expense of slightly shallow or weak characters. That said, his books are well plotted and perfectly capture the mood and essence of the period. Inspector French did not make his first appearance until the fifth book, Inspector French’s Greatest Cases. It was published in 1925 by Collins and saw the beginning of a 30 year run during which Crofts delivered a French novel every year. Following another bout of illness, Crofts passed away in 1957 shortly after his final novel Anything to Declare? was published by Hodder & Stoughton. Whilst Crofts may not have been the greatest ‘literary’ exponent of crime fiction, he was, and remains, an important and influential figure in the development of crime fiction as we know it today. (Source: Classic Crime Fiction)

Mystery in the Channel has been reviewed at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, Beneath the Stains of Time, and BooksPlease, among others.

Poisoned Pen Press publicity page

Fab Freemans: My Ten Favorite Freeman Wills Crofts Detective Novels (Plus Five Alternates) 

Good Cop, Bad Cop: Freeman Wills Crofts’ Inspector French and Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus (Then and Now, #1)


Misterio en el Canal de la Mancha, de Freeman Wills Crofts

Descripción del libro: En una agradable tarde de junio, el Chichester está realizando su viaje habitual por el Canal de la Mancha, cuando la tripulación del vapor nota algo extraño. Un yate, balanceándose en el agua delante de ellos, que parece haber sido abandonado, tiene una mancha de color rojo oscuro en su cubierta … Dos cadáveres después, sin señal alguna de un arma de fuego, no ofrece ninguna duda de que existe un misterio en el canal. El inspector French pronto descubre el mundo de una banca todopoderosa, de yates de lujo y en el que existe un doble rasero en los negocioos internacionales. Ciudades costeras británicas y francesas, puertos y, por supuesto, el propio Canal, proporcionan un atractivo telón de fondo a esta aventura náutica, junto a una galería de personajes sospechosos.

Mi opinión: Martin Edwards, en su introducción, ofrece un resumen preciso que dice poco mas o menos: En una agradable tarde de finales de junio, el Chichester, el barco de vapor que cubre la línea regular entre Newhaven y Dieppe, divisa un yate de recreo navegando a la deriva. Tras un examen más detenido, el capitán se da cuenta de que sobre la cubierta se encuentra tendido el cuerpo de un hombre. Cuando algunos miembros de la tripulación abordan el yate, descubren que no solo hay un cadáver, sino dos. Ambos hombres han sido asesinados a tiros, pero no hay rastro alguno de ningún arma de fuego ni siquiera de un sospechoso. Ambos cuerpos son identificados pronto. Resultan ser Moxon y Deeping, el presidente y vicepresidente respectivamente de Moxon General Securities, una de las principales empresas financieras del país. En consecuencia, el inspector Joseph French de Scotland Yard se hace cargo de la investigación, informando directamente al Director General Adjunto, Sir Mortimer Ellison. Simultáneamente, se hace público que Moxon Securities estaba al borde de la insolvencia y que una gran cantidad, casi un millón y medio de libras, ha desaparecido de sus arcas. También se sabe que otro socio principal en la empresa ha desaparecido y que los únicos dos oficiales de confianza se encontraban ausentes. Todo parece indicar que Moxon y Depping estaban huyendo del país con lo que habían podido rescatar de su fracaso finanicero ¿Quién y cómo los mató? ¿Dónde está el dinero de muchos hogares que han perdido todos sus ahorros? Y así, el inspector French tendrá que enfrentarse a uno de los desafíos más difíciles en su carrera, arriesgando incluso su propia vida en interés de la justicia.

Y Curtis Evans, en el Capítulo tercero de su estudio Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery titulado Freeman Wills Crofts (1879 – 1957): The Greatest Puritan of Them All, proporciona una excelente introducción a la vida y obra de Crofts. “Tradicionalmente, la obra de Crofts destaca por sus tramas cuidadosamente estructuradas, coartadas aparentemente inexpugnables y horarios exhaustivamente detallados, y con buen motivo“. Según Curtis Evans Crofts publicó en su momento cumbre (aproximadamente de 1927 a 1936) al menos ocho obras maestras del género : Inspector French and the Starvel Tragedy (1927), The Sea Mystery (1928), Sir John Magill’s Last Journey (1930), Mystery in the Channel (1931), The Hog’s Back Mytery (1933), Mystery on Southampton Water (1934), Crime at Guildford (1935) y The Loss of the “Jane Vosper” (1936). Es interesante señalar que la primera novela de Crofts, The Cask, junto con The Mysterious Affair at Styles de Agatha Christie, ambas escritas en 1916 y publicadas en 1920 …, pueden considerarse las primeras novelas con las que da comienzo la Edad de Oro de la novela de detectives. Y debe destacarse también que el propio Crofts, en un artículo de 1935, “Conozca al Inspector Jefe French”, escribió que, todo aspirante a novelista policíaco tiene que decidir si su detective será “brillante y todo un personaje” o simplemente una personalidad común y corriente”. Y él se decidió por la ruta del investigador común y corriente por dos motivos: en primer lugar, porque al hacerlo, se convierte en un innovador en las novelas de detectives, dado que existe en el género un gran número de detectives “carismáticos” y con personalidad, descendientes en línea directa de Sherlock Holmes; y segundo, como Crofts admitió con sincera ingenuidad, porque le era difícil mantener constantemente un personaje con personalidad y carisma. En cualquier caso, Crofts fue considerado uno de los mejores escritores profesionales de novelas de policíacas durante muchos años, disminuyendo un tanto su reputación solo en los años inmediatamente anteriores a la Segunda Guerra Mundial, y cayendo considerablemente en la década de los 40 y 50. Pero incluso hoy en día se mantiene aún como el mejor representante de la “Escuela Humdrum” de la Edad de Oro, como Julian Symons lo bautizó.

Es por tanto comprensible mi interés por las novelas de Crofts, y debo confesar que todas mis expectativas se han cumplido. Encontré la historia interesante e incluso relevante en estos días, la trama está bien elaborada y resulta creíble, y el gusto de Crofts por los detalles resulta evidente,  como en el siguiente fragmento:

“… .Si la Nymph alcanzó el Punto M a las doce y media, ¿a qué hora salió de Folkestone?”
Esto implicaba marcar a escala la distancia lo que Bateman hizo 54 millas naúticas, y dividirlas por los 8 nudos que acababa de averiguar con su experimento. La cosa funcionó, 6 hora y 3/4, y esto daba como resultado las 5,45 a.m. como la hora en la que Moxon salíó de Folkestone.
“Por Júpiter”, dijo French, “eso no está nada mal. Tengo constancia de que realmente salió a las 5.50 “.

Para concluir, Misterio en el Canal (1931) [también conocida como Misterio en el Canal de la Mancha] es la séptima entrega de la serie portagonizada por al inspector French. Una serie que se extiende desde 1924 hasta 1957, y comprende treinta títulos. Espero con interés leer otros libros de la serie.

Mi valoración: A (Me encantó)

Acerca del autor: Freeman Wills Crofts (1879-1957) fue uno de los escritores más sobresalientes de la Edad de Oro de la novela policíaca británica. Escribió más de treinta novelas  y fue muy admirado por sus compañeros, incluidos Agatha Christie y Raymond Chandler. Nació en Irlanda, hijo de un médico del ejército británico. Después de una formación y educación religiosa, Crofts pasaría a convertirse en ingeniero de ferrocarriles, un trabajo que conservó durante la mayor parte de su vida laboral. Pero no fue hasta que se recuperó de una enfermedad grave, en 1919, que Crofts comenzó a intoducirse en el círculo literario que se convertiría en la “Edad de Oro de la Novela Policíaca”. El resultado fue su primera, y posiblemente su mejor novela, The Cask. Publicada en 1920 por Collins y tuvo un éxito inmediato en casa y en el extranjero. Era, y sigue siendo, un libro de referencia importante. La formación de Crofts, como ingeniero de ferrocarriles, aparece con frecuencia (con demasiada frecuencia para algunos) a lo largo de sus novelas. Su mejor cualidad es también su mayor defecto, dependiendo del punto de vista. La gran atención por el detalle, aunque admirable, puede ir en detrimento de personajes ligeramente superficiales o endebles. Dicho esto, sus libros están bien ideados y capturan perfectamente el estado de ánimo y la esencia de la época. El inspector French apareció por primera vez en su quinta novela.,  Los mejores casos del inspector French, publicado en 1925 por Collins y fue el comienzo de una saga de 30 años durante la que Crofts publicó una novela de French al año. Tras otra enfermedad, Crofts falleció en 1957 poco después de publicar su última novela, Anything to Declare? publicada por Hodder & Stoughton. Si bien es posible que Crofts no sea el máximo representante “literario” de la novela de detectives, fue y sigue siendo una figura importante e influyente en el desarrollo de ésta tal y como la conocemos hoy. (Fuente: Classic Crime Fiction, mi traducción libre).

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