Category: Freeman Wills Crofts

My Book Notes: The Cask, 1920 by Freeman Wills Crofts

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Collins Crime Club, 2016. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 2310 KB. Print Length: 368 pages. ASIN: B01CY4SU2E. ISBN: 9780008190538. First published in Great Britain by The Crime Club by W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1921. Introduction by Freeman Wills Crofts, 1946.

x400Synopsis: A strange container is found in a busy London shipping yard, and its contents point to murder. The cask from a consignment of French wine from the steamship Bullfinch from Paris is bigger than the rest, its sides reinforced to hold the extraordinary weight within. As the longshoremen are bringing it onto the London docks, the cask slips, cracks, and spills some of its treasure: a wealth of gold sovereigns. As the workmen cram the spilled gold into their pockets, an official digs through the opened box, which is supposed to contain a statue. Beneath the gold he finds a woman’s hand—as cold as marble, but made of flesh. He reports the body to his superiors, but when he returns, the cask has vanished. The puzzling case is given to Inspector Burnley, a methodical detective of Scotland Yard, who will confront a baffling array of clues and red herrings, alibis and outright lies as he attempts to identify the woman in the cask—and catch the man who killed her. (Source: Goodreads)

My Take: The Cask, Freeman Wills Crofts’ debut novel, is set in 1912, though it was published in 1920. Croft’s himself recognises in an Introduction, written in 1946, that The Cask was built up, as it were, from hand to mouth. Each new ‘good notion’ was incorporated as it occurred to me, with the not infrequent result that it came out again next day, being found to conflict hopelessly with something else. The book must have been written at least five times before the final draft was reached . . . . Were I writing The Cask today, it would probably turn out a very different book . . . . a much greater attempt should be made to interest the reader in the actors through their characters. Anyhow, The Cask was widely acknowledged at its time as one of the best detective novels ever written. Martin Edwards wrote in his book The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, published in 2017:  ‘The meticulous account of detective work, coupled with the ingenuity of the construction (and deconstruction) of the alibi were to become Freeman Wills Crofts’ hallmarks, and they set his debut novel apart form the competition. Over the next twenty years, The Cask sold more than 100,000 copies.’ Likewise, Curt Evans at The Passing Tramp reminds us that ‘The Cask, the first of Crofts’s unbreakable alibi tales, was remarkable in its day for both the complexity of its mystery and the clarity with which that mystery is investigated and explicated.’ It goes without saying that these opinions encouraged me to read this book.

For fear of disclosing too much of the story, I would not like to add more about the plot. I rather leave the would-be reader the opportunity to find out what it is all about. I found The Cask  a really entertaining and interesting reading, taking into account the time and circumstances in which it was written. I cannot forget it did mark a true milestone in the evolution of the story of detective fiction. As it is widely known, The Cask was written in 1916 and published in 1920, the same years Agatha Christie wrote and published The Mysterious Affair at Styles, but all similarities end up here. Christie had to struggle to find an editor, while Crofts’ manuscript was resting in a drawer. Christie’s success had to wait for some years, while Crofts had an immediate success. Today, however, it is regarded that both titles helped  launching in full force the Golden Age of detective fiction. Besides these circumstances I truly believe that today’s reader will fully appreciate the reading of The Cask by its own merits. In a nutshell, the story is intelligent and nicely crafted.

My rating: B (I liked it)

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About the Author: Freeman Wills Crofts was born in Dublin in 1879, the son of a doctor in the British army, who died before he was born. He was raised in Northern Ireland and became a civil engineer. His first book, The Cask, was published in the summer of 1920, immediately establishing him as a new master of detective fiction. Scrupulously planting clues for the reader to find, he was continually praised for his flawless plotting. Crofts was a founder member of the Detection Club and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1939. He created the popular detective, Inspector French, and died in 1957 with more than 30 ingenious books to his name.

The Cask has been reviewed, among others, at The Invisible Event, Bedford Bookshelf, Mike Grost, Dead Yesterday, Mystery File, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, The Grandest Game in the World, Beneath the Stains of Time, and Classic Mysteries.

Freeman Wills Crofts book notes on A Crime is Afoot:

Inspector French’s Greatest Case 1924 (Inspector French #1)

Mystery in the Channel 1931 (Inspector French #7)

The Hog’s Back Mystery (Inspector French #10)

HaperCollinsPublishers UK publicity page

HarperCollinsPublishers US publicity page

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Soundcloud

Freeman Wills Crofts at Mysteries Ahoy!

Freeman Wills Crofts at Mike Grost

Freeman Wills Crofts at Wikipedia

The Cask (El barril), de Freeman Wills Crofts

Sinopsis: Un extraño barril aparece en un concurrido muelle de Londres, y su contenido apunta a un asesinato. El barril forma parte de una partida de vino francés del barco de vapor Bullfinch enviado desde París y es más grande que el resto, sus costados están reforzados para soportar un peso extraordinario. A medida que los estibadores lo llevan a los muelles de Londres, el barril se cae, se rompe y derrama algunos de sus tesoros: una enormidad de soberanos de oro. Mientras los trabajadores llenan sus bolsillos con el oro derramado, un funcionario escarba en su interior en donde se supone que contiene una estatua. Debajo del oro encuentra la mano de una mujer, tan fría como el mármol, pero de carne y hueso. Informa del hecho a sus superiores, pero cuando regresa, el barril ya ha desaparecido. El sorprendente caso le corresponde al inspector Burnley, un detective metódico de Scotland Yard, quien se enfrentará a una desconcertante variedad de pistas verdaderas y falsas, coartadas y mentiras descaradas mientras intenta identificar a la mujer del barril y atrapar al hombre que la mató. (Fuente: Goodreads)

Mi opinión: The Cask es la primera novela de Freeman Wills Crofts. Aunque se publicó en 1920, la acción se desarrolla en 1912. El mismo Croft reconoce en una Introducción, escrita en 1946, que The Cask fue construido, por así decirlo, al día. Cada nueva “buena idea” se incorporó conforme se me ocurría, con el resultado no  poco frecuente de que de nuevo al día siguiente, se encontraba irremediablemente en conflicto con otra cosa. El libro debe haber sido escrito al menos cinco veces antes de llegar al texto final. . . . Si escribiera The Cask hoy, probablemente resultaría ser un libro muy diferente. . . . Se debe hacer un intento mucho mayor para interesar al lector en los protagonistas a través de sus personajes. De todos modos, The Cask fue ampliamente reconocido en su momento como una de las mejores novelas de detectives jamás escritas. Martin Edwards escribió en su libro The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, publicado en 2017:  “El meticuloso relato del trabajo de detective, junto con lo ingeniosos de la construcción (y deconstrucción) de la coartada se van a convertir en el sello de identidad de Freeman Wills Crofts, y van a diferenciar su primera novela de la competencia. Durante los siguientes veinte años, The Cask vendió más de 100,000 copias”. Del mismo modo, Curt Evans en The Passing Tramp nos recuerda que “The Cask, la primera de las historias de coartas irrompibles de Crofts, destacó en su día tanto por la complejidad de su misterio como por la trasparencia con la que se investiga y explica ese misterio.” No hace falta decir que estas opiniones me animaron a leer este libro.

Por miedo a revelar demasiado de la historia, no me gustaría agregar más sobre la trama. Prefiero dejar al lector potencial la oportunidad de descubrir de qué se trata. Encontré The Cask una lectura realmente entretenida e interesante, teniendo en cuenta el tiempo y las circunstancias en que fue escrita. No puedo olvidar que marcó un verdadero hito en la evolución de la historia de la novela policiaca. Como es ampliamente conocido, The Cask fue escrita en 1916 y publicada en 1920, los mismos años que Agatha Christie escribió y publicó The Mysterious Affair at Styles, pero todas las similitudes terminan aquí. Christie tuvo que luchar para encontrar un editor, mientras el manuscrito de Crofts descansaba en un cajón. El éxito de Christie tuvo que esperar algunos años, mientras que Crofts tuvo un éxito inmediato. Hoy, sin embargo, se considera que ambos títulos ayudaron a iniciar con toda su fuerza la Edad de Oro de la novela policiaca. Además de estas circunstancias, realmente creo que el lector de hoy apreciará plenamente la lectura de The Cask por sus propios méritos. En pocas palabras, la historia es inteligente y está muy bien elaborada.

Mi valoración: B (Me gustó)

Sobre el autor: Freeman Wills Crofts nació en Dublín en 1879, hijo de un médico del ejército británico, que murió antes de que él naciera. Se crió en Irlanda del Norte y se hizo ingeniero civil. Su primer libro, The Cask, fue publicado en el verano de 1920, reconociéndole inmediatamente como un nuevo maestro de la novela policiaca. Sembarando escrupulosamente pistas para que el lector las pueda encontrar, fue constantemente alabado por sus impecables argumentos. Crofts fue miembro fundador del Detection Club y fue elegido miembro de la Royal Society of Arts en 1939. Creó al popular detective, inspector French, y murió en 1957 con más de 30 inteligentes libros a su nombre.

Otros libros de Freeman Wills Crofts en A Crime is Afoot:

Inspector French’s Greatest Case 1924 (Inspector French #1)

Mystery in the Channel 1931 (Inspector French #7)

The Hog’s Back Mystery (Inspector French #10)

Meet Chief-Inspector French

In an Introduction written in 1935, Freeman Wills Crofts offers this insights about his Chief-Inspector Joseph French of the CID of New Scotland Yard which I hope will be of your interest.782988

He’s decent and he’s straight and he’s as kindly as his job will allow. He believes that if you treat people decently –you’ll be able to get more out of them; and he acts on his believe. Politeness is am obsession with him, and he has well earned his nickname of “Soapy Joe”. But I have to admit he’s not very brilliant: in fact many people call him dull. And here I’ll let you into secret history. Anyone about to perpetrate a detective novel must first decide whether his detective is to be brilliant and a “character”, or a mere ordinary humdrum personality . . . . I [Croft] . . . tried to make French a perfectly ordinary man, without particularities or mannerisms. Of course he has to have some qualities, but they were to be the ordinary qualities of ordinary fairly successful men. He has to have thoroughness and perseverance as well as a reasonable amount of intelligence: just the qualities which make for moderate success in any walk of life. 

From this it follows that he does not leap into his conclusions by brilliant intuition. He begins a case by going and looking into information in those places in which he thinks is most likely to be found. When he get the information he swots over it until he grinds out some sort of theory to account for the facts. Very often this turns out to be wrong, but if so, he simply tries again until he thinks of something better.

French I made an inspector of the Yard rather than a private detective because I hoped in this way to gain realism. But at once a horrible difficulty loomed up: I knew nothing about Scotland Yard or the C.I.D. What was to be done? The answer was simple. I built on the great rock which sustain so many in my profession: if I knew nothing of my subject, well, few of my readers will know any more.

As a matter of fact I found this rock not quite so steadfast as I had hoped. It has been pointed out to me that French has at times done things which would make a real inspector of the Yard shudder. He has consistently travelled first-class on railways, particularly in sleeping-cars. He has borrowed bicycles from local police-officers without paying for their hire. He has undertaken country inquires without his attendant sergeant. And many other evil things has he done. Fortunately, now that he has become chief-inspector he is seeing the error of at least some of his ways and being more careful to live up to his great traditions.  

French is a home bird, and nothing pleases him more than to get into his slippers before the fire and bury himself in some novel of sea adventure. He is married, but unlike Dr Watson he is the husband of only one wife. On occasion his Emily helps him with his cases. But this is only when he is more utterly stuck than usual. Otherwise he doesn’t think it decent –or perhaps worthwhile– to worry her with shop. I have been wondering whether he has children. It’s like a dream to me that in one book children were mentioned, and that in another their exitance was denied. But I can’t find either reference, I can only note the point as one to be avoided.

A child could guess that, Watson!”

947A lovely quote from Inspector French’s Greatest Case, by Freeman Wills Crofts.

‘When Mrs. French called her husband by the name of the companion of the great Holmes, it signified two things, first, than she was in what he always referred to as “a good twist,” and secondly, that she felt pleasantly superior, having seen something –which he has missed. He was therefore always delighted when a conversation reached this stage, believing that something helpful was about to materialise.’

My Book Notes: Inspector French’s Greatest Case, 1924 (Inspector French #1) by Freeman Wills Crofts

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HarperCollinsPublishers, 2016. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 917 KB. Print Length: 306 pages. ASIN: B01GNSR27G. eISBN: 9780008190590. First published in Great Britain by Wm Collins Sons & C0. Ltd, 1924.

x298Book Description: At the offices of the Hatton Garden diamond merchant Duke and Peabody, the body of old Mr Gething is discovered beside a now-empty safe. With multiple suspects, the robbery and murder is clearly the work of a master criminal, and requires a master detective to solve it. Meticulous as ever, Inspector Joseph French of Scotland Yard embarks on an investigation that takes him from the streets of London to Holland, France and Spain, and finally to a ship bound for South America . . .

My Take: Inspector French’s Greatest Case is Freeman Wills Crofts fifth book, and this is the one in which Croft’s most famous detective makes his first public appearance. As from this novel Inspector French from Scotland Yard will feature again in all Croft’s mystery books published between 1924 and 1957. Initially the story seems to be relatively straightforward, but as the plot progress it becomes increasingly complicated. The novel revolves around a robbery with murder. The victim, old Mr Gething, turns out to be the head clerk of Duke and Peabody, a diamond merchant located at Hatton Garden in London who has been found dead next to the firm’s safe whose content has been burgled. The total loss amount some thirty-three thousand pounds among diamonds and some cash, and soon follows it has been an inside job. Inspector French shows up right away to take charge of the investigation and will have to travel to several European countries following false clues that will lead him nowhere. However, his perseverance and dedication will end up yielding the expected results.

I’ve found the plot quite entertaining and I’ve quite enjoyed it. However, despite the amount of false clues with which Inspector French has to deal with, the story isn’t overly complicated in my view. It has also quite a number of aspects that didn’t appear to me realistic, though I can accept them as credible, given the context and time in which the plot unfolds. In any case, any reader can easily figure out the solution to the mystery, once discarded the main suspect. Nonetheless, I found the story quite ingenious and clearly reflects Croft’s fondness for the railways and travels. The reader will feel himself transported to another era in which things were working differently. It might not be the best book in the series, and any interested reader won’t be wrong in following Curt Evans advice in Masters of the Humdrum Mystery: ‘Here I will look in greater depth at the eight French novels from this period that I think best illustrate the finer qualities in his detective fiction: Inspector French and The Starvel Hollow Tragedy (1927); Inspector French and  The Sea Mystery (1928); Inspector French and Sir John Magill’s Last Journey (1930); Mystery in the Channel a.k.a. Mystery in the English Channel (1931), The Hog’s Back Mystery a.k.a. The Strange Case of Dr. Earle (1933); Mystery on Southampton Water (1934); Crime at Guildford a.k.a. The Crime at Nornes (1935); and The Loss of the “Jane Vosper” (1936)’. 

My rating: B (I liked it)

About the Author: Freeman Wills Crofts (1879 – 1957), the son of a doctor in the British army, who died before he was born, was raised in Northern Ireland and became a civil engineer on the railways. His first book, The Cask, written in 1919 during a long illness, was published in the summer of 1920, immediately establishing him as a new master of detective fiction. Regularly outselling Agatha Christie, it was with his fifth book that Crofts introduced his iconic Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Joseph French, who would feature in no less than thirty books over the next three decades. He was a founder member of the Detection Club and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1939. Continually praised for his ingenious plotting an meticulous attention to detail –including the intricacies of railway timetables– Crofts was once dubbed ‘The King of Detective Story Writers’ and described by Raymond Chandler as ‘the soundest builder of them all’. (Source: HarperCollins).

Inspector French’s Greatest Case has been reviewed, among others, at The Invisible Event, Vintage Pop Fictions, gadetection, Classic Mysteries, and ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’.

HarperCollins UK publicity page

HarperCollins US publicity page

audible

A Fondness for French Film: An Interview with Writer Brendan Foley about “Inspector French”–the New Freeman Wills Crofts Television Detective Series

Freeman Wills Crofts at The Grandest Game in the World

Gadetection

Freeman Wills Crofts – by Michael E. Grost

El mayor caso del inspector French, de Freeman Wills Crofts

Descripción del libro: En las oficinas del comerciante de diamantes de Hatton Garden, Duke and Peabody, se descubre el cuerpo del anciano Sr. Gething junto a una caja fuerte ahora vacía. Con múltiples sospechosos, el robo y el asesinato son claramente el trabajo de un experto criminal, y requieren de un experto detective para resolverlos. Meticuloso como siempre, el inspector Joseph French de Scotland Yard se embarca en una investigación que lo lleva desde las calles de Londres a Holanda, Francia y España, y finalmente a un barco con destino a Sudamérica. . .

Mi opinión: El caso más importante del inspector French es el quinto libro de Freeman Wills Crofts, y es en éste en el que el detective más famoso de Croft hace su primera aparición pública. A partir de esta novela, el inspector French de Scotland Yard aparecerá nuevamente en todos los libros de misterio de Croft publicados entre 1924 y 1957. Inicialmente, la historia parece ser relativamente sencilla, pero a medida que avanza la trama se vuelve cada vez más complicada. La novela gira en torno a un robo con asesinato. La víctima, el anciano señor Gething, resulta ser el principal empleado de Duke and Peabody, un comerciante de diamantes ubicado en Hatton Garden en Londres que ha sido encontrado muerto junto a la caja fuerte de la empresa cuyo contenido ha sido robado. La pérdida total asciende a unas treinta y tres mil libras entre diamantes y algo de efectivo, y pronto se deduce que ha sido un trabajo interno. El inspector French se presenta de inmediato para hacerse cargo de la investigación y tendrá que viajar a varios países europeos siguiendo pistas falsas que no lo llevarán a ninguna parte. Sin embargo, su perseverancia y dedicación terminarán produciendo los resultados esperados.

He encontrado que la trama es bastante entretenida y la he disfrutado bastante. Sin embargo, a pesar de la cantidad de pistas falsas con las que tiene que lidiar el inspector French, la historia no es demasiado complicada en mi opinión. También tiene una serie de aspectos que no me parecieron realistas, aunque puedo aceptarlos como creíbles, dado el contexto y el tiempo en que se desarrolla la trama. En cualquier caso, cualquier lector puede encontrar fácilmente la solución al misterio, una vez descartado el principal sospechoso. No obstante, la historia me pareció bastante ingeniosa y refleja claramente la afición de Croft por los ferrocarriles y los viajes. El lector se sentirá transportado a otra era en la que las cosas funcionaban de manera diferente. Puede que no sea el mejor libro de la serie, y cualquier lector interesado no se equivocará al seguir el consejo de Curt Evans en Masters of the Humdrum Mystery: “Aquí analizaré con mayor profundidad las ocho novelas de French en este período que considero mejor ilustran las principales cualidades de sus novelas policiacas: Inspector French and The Starvel Hollow Tragedy (1927); Inspector French and  The Sea Mystery (1928); Inspector French and Sir John Magill’s Last Journey (1930); Mystery in the Channel a.k.a. Mystery in the English Channel (1931), The Hog’s Back Mystery a.k.a. The Strange Case of Dr. Earle (1933); Mystery on Southampton Water (1934); Crime at Guildford a.k.a. The Crime at Nornes (1935); and The Loss of the “Jane Vosper” (1936)”.

Mi valoración: B (Me gustó)

Sobre el autor: Freeman Wills Crofts (1879 – 1957), hijo de un médico del ejército británico, que murió antes de que él naciera, se crió en Irlanda del Norte y se convirtió en ingeniero civil de ferrocarriles. Su primer libro, The Cask, escrito en 1919 durante una larga enfermedad, fue publicado en el verano de 1920, colocándole directamente como nuevo maestro de la ficción policial. Superando regularmente a Agatha Christie, fue con su quinto libro que Crofts dio a conocer a su emblemático detective de Scotland Yard, el inspector Joseph French, que aparecerá en no menos de treinta libros en las próximas tres décadas. Fue miembro fundador del Detection Club y fue elegido miembro de la Royal Society of Arts en 1939. Continuamente elogiado por sus ingeniosos argumentos y su atención meticulosa al detalle, incluidas las complejidades de los horarios de los ferrocarriles, Crofts fue apodado  “El Rey de los escritores de las novelas policiacas” y calificado por Raymond Chandler como “el más solvente constructor de todos”. (Fuente: HarperCollins).

Meet Chief-Inspector French–An Introduction by Freeman Wills Crofts

947I’m reading Inspector French’s Greatest Case (1924), the first in the Inspector French Mystery series by Freeman Wills Crofts, and I couldn’t resist the temptation of sharing here the Introduction that Crofts himself wrote in 1935 about his character. So far I’ve read and enjoyed The Hog’s Back Mystery, 1933 (Inspector French #10) and Mystery in the Channel, 1931 (Inspector French #7). And now I look forward to reading the following books in the series: Inspector French and the Starvel Tragedy (1927) a.k.a. The Starvel Hollow Tragedy; The Sea Mystery (1928); Sir John Magill’s Last Journey (1930); The 12.30 from Croydon (1934) a.k.a. Wilful and Premeditated; Mystery on Southampton Water (1934) a.k.a. Crime on the Solent; Crime at Guildford (1935) a.k.a. The Crime at Nornes; The Loss of the “Jane Vosper” (1936); Found Floating (1937); Enemy Unseen (1945); and Death of a Train (1946). Not to mention his early books The Cask (1920) and The Groote Park Murder (1923).

Stay tuned.

Read more about Freeman Wills Crofts at The Grandest Game in the World