When a book succeeds as spectacularly as Gone Girl, people are eager to replicate the phenomenon. Now we have scores of books with unreliable narrators and plot twists that are supposed to elicit an “I didn’t see that coming” reaction. Of course, now that we know the formula, we always see it coming. The real twist today is no twist. That is why I am glad to see Poisoned Pen Press republishing forgotten mysteries from the Golden Era, when twists were how women wore their hair and unreliable usually referred to the weather. In a surfeit of frying pan to fire personal jeopardy thrillers, these books dedicated to logic and linear reasoning are like as refreshing as a long, tall drink of water.
Mystery in the Channel is just such a classic. It was published in 1931 and written by Freeman Wills Crofts, a member of the famed Detection Club. That means he swore his mysteries would be fair and Mystery in the Channel is just the sort of fair, reliable mystery that is a welcome relief from the sometimes overheated thrillers of today.
The mystery begins when a ship transporting rail passengers from England to France discovers a yacht dead in the water—literally dead as the passengers have been shot. The captain is careful and does his job, noting the yacht’s location and the time. He sends the yacht back along with another ship, one that coincidentally carried one of the partners of the murdered men, financiers who run one of the country’s huge investment firms. His name is Nolan and his lucky presence on the scene helps the police with identifying the victims and understanding the situation.
And it is a sticky situation…the victims seem to be scoundrels themselves. Their firm is foundering and they seem to have planned to take the money and run. Inspector French is assigned to the case, and he quickly runs down the list of suspects, painstakingly eliminating them one by one.
Mystery in the Channel is an excellent procedural that never leaves you in the dark while the Inspector is in the know. It is written with humor and passion, restrained and disciplined passion for justice and duty. French and his police associates were rightly outraged on behalf of the people who were victimized by the dead men. There were no bailouts and seventy year old people found themselves impoverished, forced to look for work instead of enjoying retirement. It is not enough to find the killer, he must find the money to help these people.
I enjoyed Mystery in the Channel. Yes, I solved the crime before the end, but then, that is the point. Crofts was not trying to leave us stunned and surprised. He wanted his readers to feel the satisfaction of following the mystery with Inspector French and leaping or casting forward as he did and figuring it out. Crofts provided all the pieces to fit together and trusts us to enjoy the process. I sure did.
Mystery in the Channel will be released on January 3rd. I received an e-galley through NetGalley.