Friday, May 18, 2018

FFB: The Cross of Frankenstein - Robert J. Myers

THE STORY: Victor Saville discovers he is the illegitimate son of the notorious Victor Frankenstein. He is approached by Frederick Greene, a visitor from Baltimore, to concoct a chemical formula drawn from the work of Victor's father. By accepting this unusual commission Victor puts into motion a fantastical scheme involving exhumation of the dead and subsequent reanimation for an unimaginable purpose. His adventure will take him to Scotland and then to America where he will confront the horrors of his father's legacy and try to put a stop to Greene's unspeakable plot.

THE CHARACTERS: Victor Saville is a fine replication of Shelley's original Victor Frankenstein. He is perhaps more moral than his father whose scientific experiments he abhors. He already knows of the dangerous and murderous character of the Monster his father created and who has survived these forty years since the original tale of Frankenstein published in 1818. Victor is accompanied in his adventures by Felicia McInnes, his aunt's ward, the daughter of an evangelical minister who died from cholera along with Felicia's mother. She begins as his confidante but soon he is falling in lust love, with her and will do anything to protect her. Felicia is kidnapped and falls into the clutches of a bizarre religious cult led by another evangelical minister, the half sane Reverend Ritter. Victor sets out to rescue her and avenge himself on Greene.

Greene, Ritter and Victor's former valet all turn out to be the rogues and villains of the piece much more than Frankenstein's Creature, or rather Monster (with a capital M) as Myers refers to him throughout the novel. All of them seem to be in thrall to the Monster who though he has also managed to make it to America has a part so small in the plot that he is almost relegated to a cameo. Myers' Monster is like a stand-in for an animated statue of Baal. He is treated as an idol, worshipped and looked to as a conduit for the salvation of dead souls through resurrection. But unbeknownst to the foolish cultists led by Rev. Ritter the Monster is wholly evil, bent only on desturciton and killing.

The bulk of the story takes place in Virginia and its environs with the climax set in a networks of caves where a bizarre religious cult have made their home. They are formed of true believers awaiting the resurrection of their beloved dead relatives. In one of the many labyrinthine caverns Green has set up a laboratory similar to Victor's father's lab. Unlike the sacred resurrection of Jesus Christ which most of the cultists believe will occur with their loved ones Greene has, unknown to the cultists, hacked to pieces and reconstructed in a parody of surgical procedures all of the dead just as Frankenstein did. Greene has hopes of creating an army of what he hopes will be a slave population to work the mines and lumber mills of the American South. But the essential ingredient to making these reanimations possible is the formula that Victor was entrusted to replicate. All depends on the manufacture of this artificial purple blood.

ATMOSPHERE: The story is rife with adventure set pieces from horseback and carriage chases in the mountains to pursuit by canoe on the whitewater rapids near Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. At times the book takes on the spirit of a James Fenimore Cooper novel and I expected Natty Bumppo to race out of the forests and come to Victor's aid at any minute. It is these sections where the writing is at its best, the excitement is genuine, and the reader waits with breath held awaiting what will happen next.

Sadly, the climax of the story takes an anachronistic detour into the land of sleazy sex. It was after all written and published in the 1970s when sex scenes seemed to be almost mandatory in popular fiction. When it happens in The Cross of Frankenstein (1975) the story ceases to be firmly rooted in the mid 19th century and reminds us of contemporary times. There is an absurdly graphic description of a blasphemous sexual ritual that ends in an orgiastic romp with the cultists coupling like mad rabbits in the caves. Felicia under the influence of Reverend Ritter's rhapsodic preaching allows herself to be ...how do I put this tastefully?... Oh heck, basically a zombie rape occurs. So it's not only a sex scene tainted by blasphemy with Reverend Ritter quoting Biblical passages, intoning about God's plan and all, but it is also a necrophilia scene. Doubly Gothic, eh? The sequence is just plain ridiculous especially when you note that much of the writing uses ill-chosen metaphors like "as a shank of lamb seeks the skewer" to describe the sexual activity. It's all unintentional hilarity. Maybe hysteria is a better word. The book takes on a decidedly salacious tone with Victor instantly transforming into a horndog obsessed with Felicia's naked body because (of course) she has managed to lose her clothes at this point and never bothers to cover up anything. I'm far from a prude, gang, but this was truly absurd and laughable and completely wrong for the book.

INNOVATIONS: Myers' attention to details in the life of Frankenstein are spot on. He clearly knows the book very well. The whole story begins as Shelley's Frankenstein begins with the introduction of Margaret Saville and talk of her correspondence with Captain Walcott. The entire first chapter in which Victor learns he is not her son, but was adopted and raised by her, soon becomes a miniature summary of Shelley's novel. Victor discovers his true parentage and of his unwanted inheritance, that he is the son of the infamous and immoral Frankenstein who dared to rival God as Creator. From the start, too, Myers has managed to capture the flavor of Shelley's 19th century prose and mostly manages to maintain the proper level of pastiche, until of course those sleazy sex scenes.

I liked especially the metaphor of slavery that pervades the novel setting up the sequel The Slave of Frankenstein (1976) in which Myers will more fully explore his idea of the reanimated dead as servants to mortal men. Frequently Myers has some pointed turns of phrase and sections where he discusses the difference between creating life and merely reanimating a corpse. While not heavy on philosophy or theology the inclusion of these passages gives the novel an extra heft that makes it more that just a potboiler thriller.

QUOTES: "Electricity and the fluid, then, were the essence of life. Not life -- animation. Life as I knew it had a spiritual and moral quality absent in the Monster. The hand of God touched not on this ghastly enterprise."

"Born without sin. Not the original sin, that is true. But I already knew that he was born from refuse, the offal of the charnel house, this soulless creature with no sense of right or wrong, a cleverness that passed for kindness to these simple folk, and cunning that knew no moral ends."

THE AUTHOR: Robert J. Myers had a rich life in Washington federal service and journalism. He began life as an Asian specialist in foreign service and was recruited during World War 2 by the OSS to work on a project to mobilize Koreans in the war against Japan. After the war he joined the CIA and continued assignments in Asia before becoming the station chief in Cambodia and deputy chief of the Far East division in the early 1960s. In 1965 he started a career in journalism. He founded Washingtonian magazine and later became publisher of the New Republic where he remained for more than a decade. In addition to the two novels based on Shelley's Frankenstein Myers also wrote The Tragedie of King Richard, the Second, a political satire and allegory in which Nixon becomes an avatar for the king.

EASY TO FIND? Very good news for this title. Close to 200 copies of The Cross Of Frankenstein are currently for sale in the used book markets on the vast shopping mall we call the internet. You have your choice of every available edition from the 1st US edition with its 19th century woodcut style DJ illustration to the paperback sporting Boris Karloff's iconic face of the Creature. Prices are very affordable based on what I saw, even the hardcovers with DJ are between $10 and $25 each. Happy hunting!

NOTE: The sequel to this first novel, The Slave of Frankenstein, will soon be written up as part on my ongoing "Frankenstein @ 200" series which so far includes posts on Frankenstein in Baghdad, Clay by David Almond and Monster by Dave Zeltserman.



Friday, May 4, 2018

FFB: Alias Basil Willing - Helen McCloy

THE STORY: Dr. Basil Willing encounters a man claiming to be him when he stops in a local cigar shop for some cigarettes. Intrigued he follows the impostor in a taxi. He ends up at a dinner party of the prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Zimmer. At the party Basil learns that one of the guests, Katharine Shaw, knows him and has hired him to do something for her -- or rather she has hired the man pretending to be Dr. Basil Willing. Confusion follows when the fake Basil shows up and both eventually leave the party headed for a restaurant where Basil intends to uncover why the man is pretending to be him. But the impostor suddenly dies, apparently poisoned by codeine, yet not before uttering a cryptic phrase; "And no--bird--sang..." Basil needs to solve several mysteries, including two murders, and find out if he was in fact the intended target of a killer.

THE CHARACTERS: The party guests make up the majority of the cast and of course provide us with a large pool of murder suspects. Basil must help the police interrogate all of the party goers a as well as the host Dr. Zimmer and his sister Greta Mann who lives with him. Over time Willing discovers that most of the guests are also Zimmer's patients and that the dinner parties are held regularly as part of Zimmer's unconventional treatment plan. Zimmer disapproves of typical Freudian psychoanalysis which he says relies on "the passive dream-side of the mind." By observing his patients in a social setting he can study the patient "in his most completely active, conscious state--when he is reacting to the people in his life." But Basil begins to see a strange pattern in the behavior of the guest/patients and is troubled by this odd style of psychiatric treatment.

Typically for McCloy most of the characters come from Manhattan's elite society and the stand-outs in the cast include the amoral Rosamunde Yorke, who was acquainted with Basil prior to his marriage to Gisela; Stephen Lawrence, an aged and ailing poet and his neurotic daughter Perdita; and the warring married couple Hubert and Isolda Canning. The Cannings allow McCloy a chance to skewer post-WW2 American life in this couple grown tired of each other and living in a sterile "modern" apartment done up in the latest trends of personality-less interior decoration while drowning their sorrows and anger in numerous bottles of booze and cocktail glasses. They are a sad couple and the portrait McCloy paints is as ugly a commentary the highbrow high life as you will find in her books.

INNOVATIONS: Perhaps the only reason one should red this book is the motive for the crimes. I was reminded of a forgotten novel by Guy Boothby called The Woman of Death and an equally forgotten short novel by Robert Louis Stevenson as it became clear to me what was going on at Zimmer's home. It's a terrifying notion.

The detection in the novel, however, is also a highlight and recalls some of McCloy's finest work in her early career. Alias Basil Willing (1951) comes almost exactly in her mid-career and is one of her last genuine detective novels before she turned to suspense and psychological thrillers in the 1960s. The clueing is fair play with teasing classic gimmicks like ambiguous initials in a cryptic diary entry, a dying message, and a devilish murder method. This time, however, the clues consist largely of intellectual and literary references that may have some readers crying "Foul!" If you're a fan of Innes, Crispin and other literary-minded detective novelists, then you may enjoy Alias Basil Willing all the more. There are ample references to romantic poetry including Keat's Gothic masterpiece "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" and a very obscure Victorian short story collection called Mrs. Lirriper's Legacy (more on that in the "Things I Learned" section below). Kipling and Coleridge are also quoted at length, but it is Keats and a writer named Charles Allston Collins whose work provide the biggest clues to the solution. Students of British literature will truly have a field day with this particular murder mystery of Helen McCloy.

QUOTES: Here are two examples of McCloy's prose. Both are fine examples of character descriptions. The first ends with an unusual metaphor I envy. The second is absurdly arch yet perfectly suited for the pseudo-sophisticate McCloy is describing.

Basil had spent too much time in hospitals not to see at a glance that Stephen Lawrence was a man chronically ill. [...] It wasn't altogether a matter of frial body, sunken cheeks, thinning hair and faded blue eyes. It wasn't even the lightness of this breathing, the slowness of his motions and the gentleness of his manner. It was rather his singularly sweet-tempered smile and his look of detached serenity. He was like paper which has burned away so slowly that the dead ash retains the shape of solidity yet actually is so fragile that it will crumble to dust at the firs touch.

Charlotte fumbled at her jabot and detached a long, slim, Italian lorgnette, silver worked in a repoussée design. Daintily she peered though the lenses at the grubby scrap of paper.

THINGS I LEARNED: Bizarre vocabulary word of this book: fissiparous. The sentence was of no help to me: "When the fissiparous process was completed Basil found himself beside Yorke." The definition is "inclined to cause or undergo division into separate parts or groups." Its root is the noun fission. I would have chosen a simpler synonym or just use "break-up" and forget about the adjective. McCloy does like to show off her erudition quite often.

Basil recalls a book called Mrs. Lirriper's Legacy which he claims is the work of Charles Dickens. This is only partly true, as the book is a collection of short stories by a variety of writers. The story he is talking about is really by Charles Allston Collins, a painter and writer, who coincidentally married Dicken's daughter. Originally written as Christmas stories in the magazine All the Year Round during the mid 1860s each tale is related by one of the lodgers in a boarding house run by Mrs. Lirriper, sort of a Canterbury Tales of the Victorian era. The second story in the collection, "A Past Lodger Relates A Wild Story of a Doctor," is the one Basil recalls. The main character and what he does is a direct echo of the action in Alias Basil Willing and leads the psychologist sleuth to the solution of the crimes.

EASY TO FIND? My ritual search of used bookselling sites turned up quite a few copies of this book in a variety of editions. Published both in the UK and US, Alias Basil Willing was reprinted in paperback only in the UK for some reason. But of the about fifteen or so copies I uncovered nearly all of them are priced affordably. For those who like digital books Orion has reissued many of McCloy's mystery novels as eBooks as part of "The Murder Room." Alias Basil Willing is one of those reissued digital books. At one time they offered Alias Basil Willing in a paperback edition, but this imprint stopped printing all paperback editions a few years ago. I found one Murder Room paperback edition being sold online, but no others. Good luck in your search!

Friday, April 27, 2018

FFB: The Evil Wish - Jean Potts

THE STORY: The Knapp sisters are planning to murder their domineering physician father who is hoping to marry his much younger nurse assistant and then disinherit his daughters. Should the doctor's plan come to fruition the two sisters will be forced to leave the only home they have ever known and give up a comfortable life. The very day the murder is to take place, however, Dad and Pam the nurse both perish in a car wreck. The Evil Wish (1962) -- as Jean Potts reminds us in the epigraph that precedes the story -- is most evil to the wisher, some words of wisdom she quotes from the Greek poet Hesiod. Marcia, the elder sister, extends that thought to a troubling, haunting reality when she tells Lucy that their father has tricked them once again. "Cheating us out of what we were primed to do, and so here we are with a leftover murder on our hands." How they deal with this burden of guilt for a crime they never actually committed is told in a unnerving tale of cat and mouse with deceit and betrayal lurking around every corner of their home.

THE CHARACTERS: Marcia and Lucy are compelling portraits of two sisters clearly devoted to one another and yet at odds with each other. They are also described as opposites in both physical attractiveness and psychological make-up. Typically for Potts she describes these women with a huge dollop of irony. Lucy is the radiant beauty of the two but she's also socially awkward, emotionally stunted, and dangerously neurotic. Marcia, on the other hand, is darkly attractive, cynical, outspoken and a bit too protective of her younger sister. Since their youth the two have engaged in a game of eavesdropping that has made them privy to their father's secrets. An architectural anomaly in the basement, situated directly below his doctor's office, has allowed the sisters to listen in on conversations. They have continued to do this into adulthood. Their surreptitious behavior will recur throughout the novel and have dire consequences for both. What they never realize is that other people who live and work in the house have also discovered this ideal place to listen in on conversations while never being seen.

Most interesting about this book is that there does not seem to be a real protagonist the reader can root for while antagonists are plentiful. Lucy and Marcia may be presented as the central characters but neither is truly likeable or sympathetic. In effect they are a duo of anti-heroines similar to the men one finds in a Patricia Highsmith novel. While there may be some elements of pathos about Lucy's fragile mental state one can never truly side with her plight. Marcia comes across as the more wily of the sisters and yet she too will be revealed to be as sinister as the two men the women find themselves at the mercy of over the course of the novel.

Original painting for the ACE G-541 reprint
(Artist uncredited)
The menacing handyman Hansen is as vile a villain as those found in Victorian and Edwardian penny dreadfuls. Just like an old-fashioned stage melodrama baddie Hansen, an embittered employee who never felt appreciated by the Knapps, is someone you want to throw rotten vegetables at and boo and hiss whenever he enters the stage. In Potts' frequent use of unusual animal imagery Hansen is likened to a slovenly bear "rigged out in men's khaki work pants and shirt" who "shambles" his way through the house grunting and mumbling his resentful complaints.

In contrast to Hansen there is C. Gordon ("Call me Chuck. Everybody else does.") Llewellyn, a portrait photographer, interested in Pam the nurse's personal belongings left behind in her office. Chuck is is first described as a "bouncy, phoney guy, trying to seem younger than he was." He's also interested in leasing out Dr. Knapp's office if he can successfully cajole and manipulate the sisters into meeting his demands. But does he have an ulterior motive? When he finds Pam's diary why does he refuse to allow the sisters to read what's written inside? His sporting manner and affable charm mask a darker core and hidden motives. Chuck's presence sets Lucy on edge and sends her easily triggered morbid imagination into a frenzy of paranoid fantasies. Marcia is leery of Chuck, but she treats him with kid gloves.

Lucy's unfortunate obsession with the disposal of an old gas heater is not easily forgotten by Hansen who was entrusted to get rid of it quickly after the two deaths. She alternates between fretting about what Hansen knows and obsessing about where Chuck has hidden Pam's diary.  Either man might be able to expose the failed plot to do in her father. Growing suspicions of foul play surrounding the car accident lead to a battle of wits between the two men and two women as they attempt to outguess and out maneuver one another. And it won't end well for anyone.

The cast is rounded out by two quirky, gossipy neighbors who rent rooms on the second floor of the house. Each woman is a pet owner and they frequently are seen trotting out with their dogs, one of which is dressed in outfits that match its owner. Mrs. Sully and Mrs. Travers (aka "La Traviata" so dubbed for her large physique and grandiose manner) are clearly objects of ridicule, but also exist oddly as the two voices of reason in this household of fear, paranoia and scheming. Ironically, as grotesque and foolish as they are painted the two neighbors appear to be the only characters who see things clearly yet as loudly as they speak no one will pay them any attention.

INNOVATIONS:  Potts' ingenuity lies in the exploration of evil deeds not carried out and the festering remains of criminality that never come to fruition. To say that the novel is merely about the guilty consciences of these two sisters is to undermine its complexity. Take for example, the scene where Marcia executes a caterpillar by whacking it in two with a trowel:
Absently she scuffed some crumbs of dirt over the caterpillar. One of God's creatures. All right; but so were roses, and you had to make a choice. You had to accept the fact that some of God's creatures were no good. The law of rose-preservation, as basic as the law of self preservation.
The ease with which Marcia so callously and brutally severs the bug in two is mentioned repeatedly after this scene.  Potts' has created that resounding image as a reminder of how that evil wish has corrupted Marcia, how strong that desire to carry out violence is not only much easier for her but almost necessary.

QUOTES: "Yeah, but if Lucy planned it... It must do something to you, to plan a thing like that. You know what I mean? It's like you've crossed a line or something, and you can't ever get back to what you were before."

After finding a photo of Dr. Knapp and Pam: "Who's the guy?" Mr. Llewellyn asked, and she could not speak. She did not have to; she had one of those expressive faces, and that was Mr. Llewellyn's business, noticing faces.

Fear. How strange to live with it, get used to it, even thrive on it. It was like a fever running in her, sharpening her perceptions and quickening her to an abnormal animation. How strange, how different from other fears. [...] Instead of the old abject helplessness, she had a feeling of zest, sometimes even of power.

EASY TO FIND? This one looks good. Published in both the UK and the US The Evil Wish was also reprinted in the US twice in two different paperback editions. My search of the most popular bookselling sites turned up a little under 20 copies of the book in various editions. Of all of these versions the most common copies found are in the Ace Books (G-541) paperback, most of them reasonably priced. Happy hunting!

Friday, April 13, 2018

FFB: Murder En Route - Brian Flynn

THE STORY: It's a foggy and wet night on the bus route from Esting to Raybourne and one passenger insists on sitting on the upper deck even though the bonnet was not installed that night. A little drizzle is nothing to him. No other passengers went up to join him for the remainder of the trip. But when the conductor goes up to check that all passengers have left the bus he finds the lone man still in his seat. Closer examination proves he is dead -- strangled. How was it possible to strangle the man when no one went near him since his ticket was purchased and the only way up and down is by the stairwell that passes right by the conductor's platform?

THE CHARACTERS: Anthony Bathurst is called upon to assist in solving the murder of the man on the bus in Murder En Route (1930), the eighth book in a long series featuring this consulting detective. I've not been too impressed with Bathurst in the two other books I read. One I finished (The Billiard Room Mystery) and found to be run-of-the-mill and the other (The Ladder of Death) was so dull and stagnant that I closed the book and never finished. Clearly I picked two of his lesser efforts. Murder En Route opens with a baffling murder in the very first chapter. As the crime is investigated the story gets more and more puzzling and will intersect with a secondary story about a missing heir to a vast fortune.

This time Bathurst is not the vain fop I so disliked in the other books. He is engaging and likeable, with a keen eye for minutiae and a skill in getting to people to open up. Granted he still exhibits an egocentric manner in his omniscient detective ways but the usual accompanying arrogance seen in so many similar fictional detectives is absent here. Rather Bathurst is eager to enlist as many people as he can to help him. He has a regular battalion of aides in this outing including our sometime narrator Rector Parry-Probyn, the rector's son Michael often found behind the wheel of Bathurst's Crossley as they travel to and from the multiple locations, and a father and son lawyer team. Of course the police are on the case as well but oddly Bathurst manages to make it seem as if they are working for him rather than vice versa.

We learn early on that Bathurst, in addition to his renown as a police consultant, is quite a Renaissance man with an encyclopedic knowledge on various arcane topics. He tells Rector Parry-Probyn that he is a musician (we never learn what instrument he plays, however) and proceeds to compliment him on the service he attended and in the process showing off his knowledge of church music. The conversation quickly moves from topic to topic. I'll let the rector explain how Bathurst astonished him:
We began to talk and we went on talking. In the space of an all-too-short hour we touched on football (both codes), rowing, church architecture, ancient monoliths, the susceptibility of the turquoise to polish, sclerosis of the posterior columns and degenerative arterial change, the Black Mass and the Medea of Euripedes.
Anthony Bathurst could give Philo Vance a run for his money in a contest of esoterica and arcane erudition! We also later discover that Bathurst has a wide knowledge of the life of bivalves and the laws pertaining to their collection which proves to be very helpful in connecting the dots to the very involved and baroquely performed murder scheme.

Flynn has a keen ear for local patois and likes to recreate dialects and regionalisms among the minor characters. One of the more memorable scenes takes place in the Quarryman Inn where Bathurst tracks down a codger named Old Orlando who has quite a few stories to tell about the murder victim while a couple of other bar patrons volunteer information about one of Bathurst's cohorts in crime solving.

Really there's never a dull moment in this story with its large cast of well defined characters, some of whom sadly run to stereotypes or are barely fleshed out like Eileen Trevor, one of only two women characters in the novel. Yet none of the story ever feels stale or old hat thanks largely to the lively portrayal of Bathurst in the lead role and the deftly plotted, well thought out, but entirely far-fetched mystery that leads to a melodramatic, thrillingly cinematic climax near an abandoned coal mine.

INNOVATIONS: Flynn does a very odd thing in this book. He starts off in third person and then introduces a first person narration in a fragmented manuscript written by the Rector. And yet in much of the first person narration the clergyman was never present for what is described. We get typically lame sentences like "Of course Michael later informed me of what happened and I have done my best to recreate the conversations to the best of my ability." But three entire chapters revert to the third person when the plot veers into the story of Eileen Trevor, her missing father, and the inheritance he is due. Why not just tell those portions of the story where the Rector is absent in the third person as well? It's just strange to me and mildly annoying as a sign of sloppy method of mixing points of view. My guess is that Flynn so enjoyed the bizarre Edwardian style syntax that comes out of the pen of Rector Parry-Probyn that he could not help himself but give over to that eccentric voice as often as he could get away with it.

The most creative aspects of this detective novel are in its construction of the impossible crime, the dizzying number of impersonations, and the amazing abundance of well placed "fair play" clues. Among the tantalizing evidence Bathurst and the police discover are a mysterious white-gray streak on the back of victim's coat and the powerfully fishy smell that permeates all his clothing; a racing program with some odd numbers in columns marked S, T, D, M; a photograph of two men one of whom is holding a sign that reads "Lifting of the Ban;" the strange reference to a street by its decade's old defunct name rather than its current name; and a pair of glasses with a prescription stronger in the left lens than the right. That's just a brief sample of the avalanche of clues and baffling aspects associated with the murder. There's enough here to keep even the most demanding detective novel reader very much on his toes.

If there is anything to gripe about it is Bathurst's unfortunate predilection in not being forthright with all he is thinking or all he has uncovered. He plays guessing games with the Rector at one point and praises him when he's right, but never fills in the missing pieces when the rector is stumped. This is because Flynn is one of those mystery writers who likes to deliver the full solution all at once in a grandiose unveiling in the final chapter. Some of the info would've been better revealed earlier to make the ending less drawn out and cumbersome.

THINGS I LEARNED: Whether it is Flynn himself or the character of the Rector who allowed Flynn to indulge in numerous allusions, Murder En Route is rife with obscure historical and literary references. Some of these allusions were linked by a single person who I think is a primary influence on Flynn's writing.

When someone remarks that no man can be in two places at once the Rector counters with: "Barring, of course, that he's a bird. I hope that in the circumstance Sir Boyle Roche will pardon the flagrant plagiarism." Roche was an 18th century Irish politician known for his absurd mixed metaphors and poor use of figurative language in his speeches and letters. The Rector's comment directly references Roche's most oft quoted quip: "Mr. Speaker, it is impossible I could have been in two places at once, unless I were a bird." Click here for a selection of Roche's other ill phrased metaphors.

Eileen Trevor is a schoolteacher and plays on the field hockey team at Freyne House where she teaches. Her masterful athletic skill is commented on by a sports writer: "That girl...was more like S. H. Shoveller than any woman centre I have ever seen." Shoveller was the star player on England's Gold medal winning field hockey team in the 1908 Olympics. [Men's field hockey was an Olympic event one hundred ten years ago? Waddyah know.]

On page 125 Flynn goes into rapturous detail about his setting of Glebeshire, "universally acknowledged to be the most beautiful county in England." The entire page is filled with the gorgeous weather, the climate that allows tropical plants and fruits to flourish, and the languorous life of a person blessed enough to have settled there. Except that it doesn't exist. It is the creation of novelist Hugh Walpole who set most of his books in that fictional county. Pretty damn ballsy to steal someone else's fictional setting and plop down your own characters there.

Flynn's Great Influence?
About ten pages further into the mystery story (page 138 to be precise) Rector Parry-Probyn makes a passing reference to Mr. Perrin and Mr. Traill and what happened at a breakfast they shared. They don't exist either. They are the protagonists in a novel called Mr. Perrin and Mr. Traill (1911) by... wait for it... Hugh Walpole.

Finally on page 158 Bathurst quotes another English writer when he says "When you want a good wife, M. De Marsac." referring to the title character in A Gentleman of France (1895) by Stanley Weyman. Weyman has been described as a writer of "the finest English historical romances since Scott." Guess who said that about Weyman? Hugh Walpole! Is that too much of a coincidence? I think not. Flynn is mad about Walpole. I'm sure his other books are loaded with Walpole references. His elliptical syntax and repetitive prose is very much reminiscent of some of Walpole's own ornate style of writing.

EASY TO FIND? This one is a strike out, gang. I seem to have bought the only copy available in years. Currently there are no copies available from any online bookselling sites. You may find one at Biblio.com offered by Arroyo Seco but it's gone from their stock. That's the one I bought using their listings on abebooks.com. Now watch one pop up on eBay in a couple of weeks. It's been known to happen after I post about a scarce book. Being one of Flynn's earliest mystery novels Murder En Route was published in both UK and US editions. But obviously both are as rare as a wooden nickel these days. However, if you are lucky enough to stumble across a copy I'd snap it up in an instant. I enjoyed it immensely and it proves that the obscure writers can dish up an engrossing, ingenious and thrilling detective story to match any of the greats of the Golden Age.