Friday, 15 April 2011

Forgotten Book - The Hog's Back Mystery


Freeman Wills Crofts was one of the leading writers of the Golden Age of detective fiction between the wars, but I have only read a few of his books over the years, and by and large have found them competently constructed, but lacking in flair. However, most recently I read The Hog's Back Mystery, my choice for today's Forgotten Book, and found it distinctly more impressive than the other novels by Crofts that I've tried in the past.

The starting point is an apparent domestic intrigue. A doctor's wife has become involved with another man, to the dismay of her friends. Then a chance encounter suggests that the doctor is also playing away from home. He is seen in the company of a younger woman, and lies about what he was getting up to. When the doctor and his friend – who proves to be a nurse of his acquaintance – vanish mysteriously, it seems that they may have run off together. But the truth is very different.

Inspector French is called in, only for one of the doctor's house guests to go missing as well. What is the explanation for the disappearances? And if the three missing people have been murdered, what can be the motive? This is an intriguing and elaborate puzzle, which I found genuinely appealing.

Typically, the weakness of a Crofts mystery is that the suspect with an unbreakable alibi proved to be the culprit, making the storyline rather predictable. But here there are no fewer than six suspects, and a plethora of alibis to unravel. This time, Crofts had me fooled. I'm surprised that this story is not better known, and I also enjoyed the "clue finder" he thoughtfully provided to show how fairly the clues were given. A very good example of that classic mystery puzzle.

12 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - As ever, an interesting choice for this feature. Thanks. I've never been much of a one for Crofts, to be quite candid with you. Still, I may have overlooked a good 'un...

vegetableduck said...

This was one of his more highly regarded books--even E.C. Bentley liked it! And, knowing that Bentley had "the whole tradition of European letters behind him," who are we to argue?

I hated this tale the first time I read it, but enjoyed it much more returning to it years later, after I had become used to Crofts' style of mystery writing.

There's a reason Sayers wanted to try her hand at this sort of thing in The Five Red Herrings (most people's least favorite Sayers novel today)--Crofts once was quite popular.

Cozy in Texas said...

I haven't heard of this - thanks for the info. Good setting for a mystery.
Ann

John said...

No train tables? Sign me up. The one thing that aggravates me about Crofts are the trains. I may have a hard time finding this one, though. Any reprint editions? A Penguin paperback, maybe? I'll have to investigate. Thanks for bringing this one out of the dusty closet and into the light, Martin.

Fiona said...

I read about this for the first time when you wrote an earlier post about Crofts - since the Hogs Back is one of our local roads(Farnham to Guildford, just over the county border in Surrey) I should love to find the book.

I also have to say I love 'Five Red Herrings, partly because I know the locale.

Yvette said...

This sounds good, Martin. I used to read Freeman Wills Croft many years ago. I kind of liked his railroad mysteries. I liked Inspector French. Don't remember much about the books, but I know I read a bunch of 'em. This one doesn't sound familiar though. I think I'll hunt it down. Thanks.

Martin Edwards said...

Margot, I agree, but this is a cut above the rest I've read.
Curt, I too like 5 RH less than the rest of Sayers.
Ann, greetings!
John, my copy was a cheap Stratus reprint. You will enjoy it, I think
Fiona, please tell me more about Hog's Back!
Yvette, you'll like this one, I bet

vegetableduck said...

I like The Five Red Herrings now. I think even railway timetables have a certain romance these days.

vegetableduck said...

John, there are not railway timetables as I recall, but there is the highway system around the hog's back and plenty about possible movements and times. Along with his railway story Sir John Magill's Last Journey, Hog's Back probably Crofts' densest calculations-of-time-and-space mystery.

Ten years ago it was reprinted by House of Stratus with a lovely cover illustration.

Toyin O. said...

Sounds like a great book, thnaks for sharing:)

Fiona said...

The Hogs back in Surrey is a ridge of the North Downs which lies 500' above sea level. It carries the A31 road between Farnham and Guildford and links with the A3 to London. Guildford Cathedral stands above the town on Stag Hill: it's always a surprise to drive along the Hogs Back and look down on the cathedral! Crofts lived in Blackheath, just outside Guildford, for some years and also wrote 'Crime at Guildford'

Martin Edwards said...

Curt, I totally agree about the great cover artwork on the Stratus edition.
Fiona, many thanks, as ever.