With the exception of only a few of his thrillers which venture into the realm of science fiction and fantasy if you read one Fletcher novel you can usually predict what the rest of them will be like. A murder or two, a theft of a valuable piece of jewelry, a villain of the Napoleon of Crime variety, blackmail, a handsome and witty amateur sleuth (usually a lawyer or reporter), and a wily policeman who teams up with the amateur. Throw it all into blender, push a high button speed, and serve in a tall frosty glass with a some biscuits or scones.
The Charing Cross Mystery (1923) is less of a detective novel (though it tries very hard to be one) than it is one of Fletcher's rapidly paced pursuit thrillers. It begins in a subway train car headed for Charing Cross station. Superintendent Hannaford (Ret.) confides with James Granett that he has located a woman who escaped arrest for fraud eight years ago. Hannaford has cut out her picture from a newspaper article as proof and shows it to Granett. Shortly after this somewhat confidential talk -- overheard by our hero, a young barrister named Hetherwick -– Hannaford drops dead, the victim of some agonizingly fatal poison. Granett goes in search of a doctor but never returns. Hetherwick is left to explain to the police and a passing doctor what happened.
Intrigued by what he overheard Hetherwick is curious to uncover the identity of the woman in the photo and would like to find Hannaford's murderer. He joins forces with Inspector Matherfield and together they uncover a complex web of multiple crimes related to the fraudulent sale of a diamond necklace.
Soon it doesn’t matter who killed Hannaford and the other victims or really why they were killed. Fletcher is not satisfied with a murder or two in this story. He tosses into his potent crime fiction cocktail every crime one can think of: blackmail, extortion, theft, check fraud, and kidnapping. The kidnapping eventually becomes the focus of the story as Hetherwick, his law office aide, and a variety of policeman led by Matherfield try to locate the kidnap victim and put an end to the reign of terror begun by a duo of master criminals. In addition to this circus juggler's act of criminal activity Fletcher dares to throw into the ring the time worn detective novel cliché of mistaken identity related to twins!
The book is fairly typical of the crime fiction of the time. Nothing very original or surprising occurs though the supporting cast of characters comprised of a lively and colorful bunch provides for some entertaining moments and amusing dialogue. What makes the book slightly notable is the sheer inventiveness of the multi-dimensional plot and the fast pace with which Fletcher manages to churn out set piece after set piece. It would have made a fabulous movie serial during the silent era as the chapters tend to end with cliffhangers or melodramatic pronouncements. The US edition apparently was originally serialized as my copy published by G.P. Putnam & Sons states it is copyright by Consolidated Magazine Corporation, who published among other periodicals The Blue Book Magazine where Tarzan debuted.
LONDON BOUND – A series of classic crime novels, largely from the Golden Age of detective fiction, faithfully transcribed, re-set and reprinted by Oleander under the series name London Bound - owing, unsurprisingly, to their all being set in the nation's capital.Each title will be released in a limited hardcover edition as well as affordable paperback editions. Other authors whose work will be reprinted include Henry Holt, William LeQueux, and the exceptionally rare detective novel Fatality in Fleet Street by Christopher St. John Sprigg. I was so excited about the Sprigg book I immediately pre-ordered it. That one is not out until June 2013.
UPDATE, JAN 2015: Oleander Press suspended operations of the "London Bound" imprint series sometime in the summer 2013. Only three titles ever saw the light of day: The Charing Cross Mystery, Fatality in Fleet Street and Doctor of Pimlico by William LeQueux. The planned releases of books by Henry Holt (still mentioned on their website) were abandoned.